UD researchers look at sweet corn damage caused by stink bugs

Researchers at UD look at stink bugs on sweet cornCooperative Extension agents and researchers at the University of Delaware are taking a closer look at how brown marmorated stink bugs are causing damage to developing ears of sweet corn, the results of which could lead to better pest management strategies for growers throughout the state.

The research was supported in part by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) Coordinated Agricultural Project, and the findings were recently published in the Journal of Economic Entomology.

Bill Cissel, an integrated pest management extension agent, is a member of the research group and said that in 2011 and 2012 the researchers infested sweet corn ears with different densities of brown marmorated stink bugs — zero, one, three and five adults per ear — at three different corn growth stages: silking, blister and milk.

“The objective of our research was to determine how many brown marmorated stink bugs it takes to cause damage, both quality and yield reductions, in sweet corn,” said Cissel, adding, “We also wanted to look at what influence the plant growth stage may or may not have on the amount of damage that we see and also the severity.”

The researchers used replicated research plots on UD’s Newark Farm, as well as the University of Maryland’s Wye Research and Education Center, and conducted their research by placing mesh bags over developing ears of corn and then artificially infesting those bags with different densities of brown marmorated stink bugs at different plant growth stages for a period of seven days.

Cissel said the results showed that brown marmorated stink bugs cause a significant amount of damage in sweet corn by piercing through the husk leaves and feeding on developing ears and kernels.

The researchers determined that the greatest potential for yield loss happened when infestations occurred during earlier stages of ear development, whereas the greatest reductions in quality — damaged kernels — occurred during later stages of ear development.

“We looked at feeding that occurs prior to and during pollination, before the kernels even begin to develop, and we found that brown marmorated stink bug feeding injury can result in aborted kernels. The reason we think that’s the case is because they’re actually interrupting pollination by damaging some of the silk channels,” said Cissel.

The research team also found that while the bags filled with the higher densities of brown marmorated stink bugs saw the most damage to the corn, the stink bugs are capable of causing substantial economic losses due to quality reductions at densities as low as one bug per ear of corn.

Cissel said that the milk stage was determined to be the most sensitive stage of corn development, with the highest number of damaged kernels observed when compared to the two earlier stages, but stressed that they did see high levels of kernel damage at all the stages.

“I think of it this way: prior to pollination, they’re feeding on developing ear tissue and causing damage to the ear where kernels could ultimately be and the kernels never develop. After pollination has occurred they’re feeding on individual kernels,” said Cissel. “The milk stage seems to be the most important, but having said that, we did see some pretty high levels of kernel injury at all the growth stages that would likely result in quality reductions for sweet corn growers.”

Now that the study is complete, Cissel said that the researchers are hoping to take their findings from the study and figure out the best times to apply pesticides to manage brown marmorated stink bugs in processing and fresh market sweet corn for growers in Delaware.

“We plan to take the findings from that study in which we identified these different plant growth stages that are important for managing brown marmorated stink bugs in sweet corn to prevent economic losses from occurring and target those timings with insecticide applications to see how or if we can achieve control by focusing on these key timings,” said Cissel.

Researchers on the project include Cissel; Charles Mason, professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology (ENWC); Joanne Whalen, extension specialist and state program leader for agriculture and natural resources; Judith Hough-Goldstein, professor in ENWC; and Cerruti Hooks, associate professor and extension specialist at the University of Maryland.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Christy Mannering and courtesy of Bill Cissel

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CANR’s Linda Thompson has garden featured on Newark’s Backyard Habitat Tour

Linda Thompson's backyard featured on City of Newark's Backyard Habitat TourWhen Linda Thompson first moved into her house, her backyard was pretty typical: it was on a long slope and comprised of nothing but a lawn. 14 years later, Thompson’s yard has been transformed into a livable landscape full of plants and wildlife and was recently featured on the City of Newark’s Backyard Habitat Tour.

Thompson, who works in the administrative offices at the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), said that she first got interested in gardening after being a member of the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens (UDBG).

“After that, I got what you call the plant disease and I just had to have this plant and that plant and thankfully I have a big yard and I made my own flower beds because when I moved in, it was nothing but grass,” said Thompson.

Thompson’s garden is now full of many native plants such as Echinacea, Red Buckeye, Sweetbay Magnolia, Black-eyed Susans, Cardinal Flower and three River Birch trees that support wildlife.

Donna Bailey, who also works in the CANR administrative offices and is a friend of Thompson’s who helped with the Backyard Habitat Tour, said that the garden is always alive with activity.

“The thing that’s so wonderful about the garden is as you sit there and observe quietly, the garden is alive with birds and butterflies and bees and so it’s like a ballet that goes on before your eyes,” said Bailey. “The Goldfinch come in and sit on top of the Echinacea, the hummingbirds come into the Cardinal Flowers. Linda has a birdbath and her neighbor up the street has beehives and the bees have found her birdbaths. The whole yard hums with activity and then the butterflies are everywhere dancing.”

On the day of the tour, Thompson said that 71 people came and looked at her garden from 9:15 a.m. to 1:15 p.m., which she described as a nice steady flow of people and never overwhelming.

As for the importance of livable landscapes, Thompson said that they provide many benefits, such as cutting down on erosion and on the need to apply chemicals, but the main thing is that it helps to support wildlife.

“It feeds and protects a variety of critters, that’s my main thing. And also the more plants you have, the less weeding you have to do because the plants fill in and the weeds don’t have a chance to grow,” said Thompson.

As for her favorite part about gardening, Thompson said that the most pleasure she gets is from “seeing the fruits of my labor pay off and watching the critters come around. If you be still, life will come to you and it’s so true. If I sit on my swing, the next thing I know, I’ll see a rabbit or I’ve got a bird or a bee nearby.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Donna Bailey

UD scientists receive funding to study tropical storm impacts on water quality

UD scientists receive funding to study tropical storm impacts on water qualityUniversity of Delaware researchers have been awarded a $475,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to study how large tropical storms impact stream water quality and aquatic ecosystems, specifically the amount and fate of sediment-associated carbon and nitrogen that is eroded and deposited in streams following such intense weather events.

Shreeram Inamdar, professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences (PLSC) in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and director of the water science and policy graduate program, and Rodrigo Vargas, assistant professor of plant and soil sciences, will lead the project for UD. They will be joined on the project by Jinjun Kan, a microbial ecologist from the Stroud Water Research Center (SWRC) in Avondale, Pennsylvania.

Previous work and publications by Inamdar’s research group have shown that large tropical storms like Irene and Lee in 2011 and Sandy in 2012 have substantial energy to erode large amounts of sediment and particulate material and transport them into and through waterways.

Working in a small, forested headwater watershed in Maryland, UD alumnus Gurbir Dhillon – who worked with Inamdar and received a master’s degree in plant and soil sciences in 2012 – found that in just 59 hours, stream runoff from tropical storm Irene produced nearly half the annual export of organic carbon from the watershed in 2011.

The enormity of this organic carbon input to the stream is similar to a human being consuming all of the day’s meals in just 18 minutes, Inamdar said.

Such large sediment and nutrient pulses, which are also occasionally referred to as “hot moments,” can have significant water quality implications for downstream water bodies such as the Chesapeake Bay, he said.

Inamdar said understanding how these large storms impact water quality and aquatic ecosystems is important because research suggests that there already has been an increase in the intensity of large – top one percent storms – over the past 50 years and future climate change projections indicate further intensification of the largest storms, especially for the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.

Inamdar said that capturing data during these large and intense storms can be very challenging, especially when flooding is involved, but the scientific insights that are generated can be very rewarding. “I guess that studying and monitoring tropical storms and hurricanes is similar to the thrill and excitement that tornado chasers experience when they chase tornadoes out in the Midwest,” he said.

While the scientific focus has typically been on dissolved forms of nitrogen and phosphorus, particulate forms of nitrogen and phosphorus that are eroded during these storms can also stimulate algae growth and thus degrade water quality, Inamdar said.

Even at the large scale of the Chesapeake Bay, he said, sediment exports from tropical storm Lee in September 2011 were so large that they were clearly visible in satellite photosreleased by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

These sediment/particulate inputs not only pose an immediate water quality threat but could also have long-term consequences for the Chesapeake and similar coastal water bodies, Inamdar said. As an example, he noted that sediment and nutrient inputs associated with the highest-ever recorded flows on the Susquehanna River following tropical storm Agnes in 1972 impacted Chesapeake Bay habitat and fisheries for decades.

Inamdar, Vargas, Kan and their students will study how and where sediment and particulate organic carbon and nitrogen is deposited in the stream drainage network, identify the “hot spots” and sources of erosion and deposition, what proportion of the particulate carbon and nitrogen is leached/released into the overlying stream waters and is bioavailable, and what type of microbes participate in degrading the particulate material.

The researchers also will study the release of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, from decomposing carbon in the sediments and its significance for regional and global carbon cycles.

Working alongside the professors will be water science and policy graduate students Richard Rowland, Erin Johnson and Chelsea Kreig.

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

4-H to hold Science Saturdays for youths 8-12 starting in September

4-H science saturdaysThe University of Delaware Cooperative Extension New Castle County 4-H program has announced a series of science-focused Saturdays to be held September through December in various locations.

Locations include the New Castle County Cooperative Extension office and White Clay Creek State Park, both in Newark, and the Mallard Lodge in Smyrna.

The workshops are co-sponsored by Dow Chemical Co. and 4-H, and are designed to give participants hands-on experiences in entomology, habitat conservation, geocaching, mathematics, wetlands ecology and waterfowl biology, food science and chemistry.

The workshops are open to all Delaware youths ages 8-12.

Cost of attendance is $10 per workshop. Space is limited. For more information, contact the 4-H office at 302-831-8965.

Applicants need to complete the 2015 4-H Science Saturday workshop series registration form as well as a 4-H health, photo and conduct form.

The 4-H Science Saturday topics include:

Sept. 5, 9 a.m. to noon: New Castle County Cooperative Extension Office, 461 Wyoming Road, Newark, “Project Butterfly WINGS.” Entomology and habitat conservation.

Oct. 3, 9 a.m. to noon: White Clay Creek State Park, Del. 896, Newark, “Treasure Hunt!” Geocaching.

Nov. 7, 9 a.m. to noon: Mallard Lodge, 5128 Hay Point Landing Road, Smyrna, “Migrate with Us!” Wetlands and waterfowl biology.

Dec. 5, 9 a.m. to noon: New Castle County Cooperative Extension Office, “Be a Food Scientist.” Food science and chemistry.

For more information and to download registration forms, visit the 4-H Science Saturdays website.

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Students to learn floral business through UD Blossoms pilot program

UD Blossoms partnership between CANR and Theresa Floral DesignThe University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) has partnered with THERESA Floral Design, a boutique event floral design company in Newark that specializes in event work throughout Philadelphia, Delaware, New Jersey and Maryland, to launch UD Blossoms, a six-month initiative that will provide an experiential learning opportunity for UD students to plan and provide flower arrangements for special events on campus.

UD Blossoms is modeled after the UDairy Creamery in terms of student support and learning experience. The pilot program will start Aug. 15 and run through Feb. 15, 2016, and will focus on events of all sizes within the University.

CANR Dean Mark Rieger said of the partnership, “I am delighted that this pilot initiative will give our students additional opportunities to have practical training in floral design for events. Collaborative and creative partnerships such as this provide valuable co-curricular opportunities that help train students for today’s professions in agriculture and natural resources. We are optimistic about the project’s potential.”

Students will be provided with hands-on work and management opportunities through the interdisciplinary program, which will cover all aspects of the business, including purchasing, distributing, marketing, designing and selling floral products.

Emma Brown and Sarah Morales, both seniors in CANR, have been chosen as the first two student interns for UD Blossoms and both will be trained in design work.

Brown will be the shop and studio manager and will work with the plant material, processing the flowers that come in weekly for orders, keeping the coolers clean and making sure the inventory is correct and organized.

Morales will be the assistant manager and will be in charge of communications and marketing. She will oversee the installation teams that put the floral work in place and will be responsible for publicizing UD Blossoms.

Theresa Clower, manager of UD Blossoms and owner and principal designer of THERESA Floral Design, will oversee the project. Clower is quite familiar with the University, having done many of its floral design projects for a number of years. She developed the project’s concept of taking the investment the University is currently making in flowers for special events and turning it into a professional learning experience for students.

UD Blossoms will run out of THERESA Floral Design’s studio for the first six months with the hope to eventually establish a location on campus to house the program. Clower’s intent is for UD Blossoms to become a stand-alone business separate from THERESA Floral Design. The pilot project will be assessed officially after its six-month duration.

“The plan is to use local product as much as we can but when you’re dealing with event work, it can be impractical for some things,” said Clower. “This year, we do have some basics started and we will use those to the extent that we can. But most of our material will come from wholesalers.”

Clower said that with the time frame for the pilot project, which runs through football season — where they provide flowers for tailgate gatherings — and the holiday season, UD Blossoms will have a good snapshot about what they will be able to manage.

They currently are scheduled to provide flowers for several fall events on campus.

“We haven’t even publicized yet and the requests are starting to come in. I’m optimistic that this program will succeed by providing quality and creative floral designs for events throughout the University at the same time providing students with a real-life learning experience,” said Clower.

For more information on UD Blossoms, visit the website or contact Theresa Clower at tclower@theresafloral.com.

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD Cooperative Extension class strives to educate new and beginning farmers

UD Extension training new and beginning farmersUniversity of Delaware Cooperative Extension is helping educate state residents who are interested in farming but lack experience through its new and beginning farmer training program.

The program, which started in February, is running one session in New Castle County and one in Sussex County and is geared toward new and beginning farmers working in small-scale vegetable and/or fruit production.

The beginning farmers tend farms, community gardens or plots of land of different sizes and have varied reasons for taking the class, with some wanting to develop market gardens or small scale commercial farms, others seeking to add to existing small farms, and still others planning to provide locally grown food for their communities.

The class covers all aspects of growing, from crop specific production practices to food safety to pest control to plant diseases to developing a sound business plan.

“I think that, more than anything, this class is an example of how Extension is helping the small, non-traditional farmer,” said Carrie Murphy, a Cooperative Extension agent and lawn and garden program leader.

Tracy Wootten, a fellow agent, said the beauty of the class is that the Cooperative Extension educators are able to tailor it to meet the needs of the individuals instead of just having a general overview for the participants.

“A lot of people in the class had already started thinking about becoming growers and this helps them get moving on to the next steps, or evaluating what they already had considered,” said Wootten.

The program involves classroom sessions as well as field trips to participants’ farms or commercial farms – such as Filasky’s Produce in Middletown and Ma and Pa’s Produce in Bridgetown – so participants can learn from growers in the field.

Gordon Johnson, a Cooperative Extension fruit and vegetables specialist and an assistant professor in UD’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences (PLSC) who is the lead instructor in the program, said he tries to vary the classroom sessions to meet the needs of his audience.

“For example, upstate, there’s more interest in organic growing systems so I cover more on that topic. But it is challenging because there are some people who might be interested in mixed vegetable production, others in specific fruits such as blueberries, others who are interested in flowers, and still others who are interested in community gardens,” Johnson said.

Johnson also said that the New Castle County class tends to have more participants interested in community gardens and urban agriculture, while the Sussex County class has a more traditional interest with people looking to start a business or add a side business.

Class participants

Susan Kemer is one of the participants in the class and has been managing a garden on about one-third of an acre at St. Andrew’s School in Middletown since fall 2012. She said the hands-on learning has been the most beneficial part of the class, adding that other valuable aspects have been connections she has been able to make with other farmers and the resources for growers in the area that she discovered through the course.

“I took the class because I wanted to learn more about farming, and I have been learning more,” Kemer said. “There is obviously a huge learning curve because I don’t have an agriculture background and I’ve been learning the science and methods involved with agriculture. The class has been very helpful in melding it all together and it’s been nice because I’ve made a lot of really good connections with other beginning farmers.”

The class was able to tour the organic garden that Kemer tends at St. Andrew’s as one of its on-site visits and she found it beneficial. “Having them come and visit was good – just to have those boots on the ground learning and observations and recommendations from our teachers and facilitators.”

Kemer said that one of her goals for the garden at St. Andrew’s is to “try to find ways to engage students, not just in harvesting and planting and labor but also in the science behind it, and to try and help them see that part of it.” She said the class has been very helpful in that regard.

Ron Walker Jr. is a class participant who owns a farm that is about one-third to one-half an acre – and that he plans to expand to nearly one full acre next season – off of Route 40 near Porter Road, growing lima beans, tomatoes, peppers, watermelons and pumpkins. He said the networking is a great feature of the class.

“I enjoy the knowledge that the other people have. It prevents a lot of trial and error,” said Walker, who added that another benefit of the class is being able to “pick Gordon Johnson’s brain.”

Networking

Wootten said that when it comes to adult education, “You learn as much from the teacher as you do the other students. There’s camaraderie there, and you get to know each other and you can talk about things – it’s something they have in common. Through the networking with current growers, they can learn from them about things they tried that maybe did or didn’t work. It’s important for them to see what’s been successful, too.” 

In addition to the farm visits, participants are invited to Cooperative Extension field days, which take place at the 344-acre research farm in Georgetown at the Elbert N. and Ann V. Carvel Research and Education Center.

During sessions they also were able to tour UD’s Fischer Greenhouse and the new high tunnel installed on the University’s Newark Farm.

Helping hands

With such a sprawling program topic, the program has been helped by many Cooperative Extension agents and specialists, including Johnson, Murphy, Wootten, Emmalea Ernest, Joanne Whalen, Nancy Gregory, Mark VanGessel, Maria Pippidis and Dan Severson.

Mike Wasylkowski, a small farms educator with Delaware State University, also helped with the class.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos courtesy of Carrie Murphy and Tracy Wootten

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Teens test science, technology curriculum during student summer academy

Students participating in the Summer STEM program learned about plant diversity on UD's CANR campusThis summer, the Student STEM Summer Academy brought together three dozen teachers and nearly 80 students from nine Delaware high schools to promote a deeper understanding of science, technology, engineering and mathematics – or STEM – curriculum. Hands-on interdisciplinary lessons were aimed at increasing the number of students considering an education or career in a STEM field.

“During the academy, students learn about things that would not necessarily interest them when presented in a traditional way,” said Brandi Anderson, a science teacher at Appoquinimink High School. “But when they collaborate with each other, and see how math and science work in the real world, they get energized.”

One activity took place at the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) campus where the students learned about biodiversity by taking samples from two different habitats, one of the CANR wetlands and also a grassy area.

Using Hula Hoops as circular plot frames, the students recorded random samples and noted the biodiversity found in their frames. They then went back to the Harker Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Laboratory and learned about chi-square analysis and how to use a biodiversity calculator to determine biodiversity indices.

Penny Rodrick-Williams, a biology teacher from the Tatnall School who taught in UD’s Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology from 2004-08, was one of the teachers who led the project.

Rodrick-Williams said that Tatnall values its environmental studies curriculum and exposing the students to the outdoor program was a natural decision.

“When we were asked to come up with an activity to do for the STEM lab, it was just natural for us to want to bring the students outside,” said Rodrick-Williams. “We’re really excited about our environmental programs and to keep that going made us really happy. We were glad to be able to do it and we were really appreciative of being able to use the space.”

Article by Adam Thomas

To view the rest of the article on the Student STEM Summer Academy, check out the article on UDaily.

CANR, Food Bank of Delaware will hold annual ‘Evening in the Garden’ event

Evening in the Garden with Dean Mark Rieger and the Food Bank of Delaware.The University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) and the Food Bank of Delaware will hold the seventh annual “Evening in the Garden” from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 10, at UD’s Garden for the Community, which is located off South College Avenue near the Girl Scouts building.

To celebrate the bounty of the Garden for the Community, those who attend will enjoy wine and beer tastings, live entertainment from the Ellen Lebowitz Quartet, a four-piece jazz group featuring piano, drums, bass and voice, and tours of the garden.

The evening’s menu includes garden-fresh foods straight from the Garden for the Community. Students and chefs from the Culinary School at the Food Bank of Delaware will serve braised lamb black and tan, a stout braised local lamb, with black garlic mashed potatoes, and crispy shaved shallots; “Suffering Succotash,” a sweet corn and edamame succotash; pigtail shrimp, finished with an optional drizzle of hot chili oil; and squash blossom goat cheese taco, a jalapeño toasted almond pesto with pickled red onion.

The UDairy Creamery will also be on hand to scoop ice cream.

Attendees will also be able to enjoy beverages from breweries including 3rd Wave Brewing Co., Twin Lakes Brewing Co., Two Stones Pub, Mispillion River Brewing, Dogfish Head Brewery, 16 Mile Brewery and Painted Stave Distilling.

“Our annual Evening in the Garden event is a great opportunity for us to showcase the skills of our talented students from the Culinary School,” said Patricia Beebe, Food Bank of Delaware president and CEO. “Workforce development is important to us at the food bank, and this annual event gives students real-world experience working a catered fundraising event.”

The Garden for the Community project is a partnership between the Food Bank of Delaware and CANR faculty and staff members, undergraduate students and graduate students.

CANR Dean Mark Rieger said, “UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources is very proud of its longstanding partnership with the Food Bank. This is the seventh year that the greater Delaware community has been welcomed to campus to feast on the bounty grown by its students in UD’s Garden for the Community. I can’t think of a more rewarding event than one that helps raise money to provide food for those who need it most and, at the same time, provides our students with an experiential learning project that is connected directly to the everyday lives of people living in our own community.”

Registration is $40 per person. A student discount is available for $20 per person, but student IDs must be shown to get the discount. The price includes dinner, wine, beer and entertainment. Attendees must RSVP by Aug. 31. If tickets are still available after the RSVP deadline, the price will increase by $10.

To purchase tickets, contact Kim Turner at 302-444-8074 or kturner@fbd.org. Online registration also is available at this website.

Those who attend are encouraged to bring a bag of non-perishable goods for the Food Bank of Delaware.

Photo by Lindsay Yeager

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UD professor, students educate public about roots and soil at US Botanic Garden

UD professor, students educate public about roots and soil at US Botanic GardenRepresentatives from the University of Delaware spent a recent Saturday at the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C., educating visitors about the important roles that healthy soils and soil microbes play in ensuring robust plants during a “Roots Festival” held in conjunction with the garden’s exhibit “Exposed: The Secret Life of Roots.”

Janine Sherrier, professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), led the team that included Cherish Warner, a doctoral student in biological sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences who works in Sherrier’s laboratory, and Simone Jimenez, a visiting undergraduate student in the laboratory from Florida International University (FIU) who is taking part in the CANR Summer Institute.

The display and the related research were sponsored by the National Science Foundation, in a research grant awarded to Sherrier and her collaborator, Blake C. Meyers, chair of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences and the Edward F. and Elizabeth Goodman Rosenberg Professor of Plant and Soil Sciences.

Because the United Nations has dubbed 2015 the International Year of Soils, Sherrier said the timing was perfect to educate the public about the important role soils play in keeping plants healthy and crops productive.

“Since roots are underground, we often forget about what’s happening down there in the dark,” Sherrier said. “When we look at our crops today, we achieve a high level of productivity based on the skills of growers, the genetics of the plants, the equipment and the availability of fertilizer and water, but one component that we haven’t developed fully is the health of the soil. We need to keep our soils healthy if we are going to maintain this level of crop productivity for years to come.”

Sherrier said she was honored that her team was invited to contribute to the “Roots Festival” and that she was impressed by the creative displays and varied plant collections at the U.S. Botanic Garden.

“It’s an amazing, gorgeous garden, and their set up is such that visitors can learn as they explore. It is a lovely walk through their space, and their activities and the level of staff engagement at the festival demonstrated a true commitment to public education,” she said.

At their display, Sherrier, Warner and Jimenez talked to garden visitors about the roles of roots and soil microbes and how they contribute to food production and ecosystem health.

“The whole root system provides so much, not only for the plant but for us agriculturally. The way roots grow determines how they can uptake water, how nutrients are distributed, how other plants will grow around it – it’s really this whole network of interactions,” said Warner.

The visitors were a mix of ages and nationalities, as people from all over the world toured the garden. Sherrier said that participating in the festival was a great way for Warner and Jimenez to gain experience communicating complicated scientific ideas in a way that the general public can understand. They specifically focused on beneficial soil microbes that help plants extract essential nutrients from the environment.

“We had tremendous interactions with the public explaining that healthy soils have a normal complement of microbes, why it is important for plants to interact with soil bacteria, and how these particular microbes could help reduce the environmental impact and carbon footprint of agricultural production,” said Sherrier.

As for the students, Sherrier said that they did a terrific job.

“Cherish was instrumental in designing some of the displays, thinking about how we would present our information. Simone had only been in our laboratory a week at that point, and she’s a natural when it comes to communicating with the public. It was a great opportunity for both of them to be able to communicate our science at a level that the public can understand,” said Sherrier.

Jimenez said that it was “refreshing and enlightening to be visited by people of all ages with such a real interest in soil health and gardening. With Delaware being so agriculture dominant, it was exciting to interact with children and adults and educate them with our root nodules.”

Warner, who also organized the 4-H Marvelous Microbes summer camp with Sherrier and gained experience speaking with youths about science, said, “As a scientist, communicating our research and the reasons it’s important are crucial and vital for us to progress.”

Concerning the highlight of the day, Sherrier said she enjoyed the fact that there were “so many people who were really curious about roots and the environment, and that they genuinely wanted to learn. Having the opportunity to provide that information, to me that was the best part.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo courtesy of Cherish Warner

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UD’s Buler recognized for work with radar ornithology

Jeff Buler receives the 2015 H.R. Painton Award from the Cooper Ornithological SocietyThe University of Delaware’s Jeff Buler has been presented the 2015 H.R. Painton Award from the Cooper Ornithological Society for his paper “Radar Analysis of Fall Bird Migration Stopover Sites in the Northeastern U.S.,” which was published in the society’s journal The Condor: Ornithological Applications.

The award is named for Harry R. Painton, one of the four founders of the Cooper Ornithological Club in 1893, who bequeathed funds to establish an award that recognized original and significant ornithological research.

Buler, assistant professor of wildlife ecology in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology, received the award at a recent joint meeting of the international Cooper Ornithological Society and American Ornithologists’ Union in Oklahoma.

“It was an honor and a surprise,” Buler said of the award. “It basically came out of the blue. It is a real honor because it is among the most prestigious awards that this society presents and it is only presented every other year. It is reassuring to know that you are doing good science when your peers recognize that and give you an honor like this.”

Buler said the paper was the culmination of many years developing a new approach to using weather radar to map distributions of birds on the ground during migration.

“The first paper to publish on a similar approach was in 2009, and so it is very fresh,” Buler said. “I think part of the recognition of this paper is that the approach is being embraced by the community and that people appreciate and see the potential of using weather radar to inform us about the ecology of birds in powerful and in broad scale ways.”

With co-author Deanna Dawson, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, Buler mapped stopover distributions of birds during autumn migration in the northeastern U.S. using 16 weather radar installations across the region.

“We’re pretty much the only group in the country that’s doing this right now,” Buler said of the pioneering study developed at UD.

A major focus of Buler’s research is developing an application to use radar analysis to study birds and bird migration. He said students in his laboratory are working on a follow up to the study incorporating more years of data and doing ground validation surveys at sites in Maryland, Delaware and Virginia. That project will continue until spring 2016.

“We’ve continued to work on this system, and we have made some improvements on the methods since we’ve published that paper and expanded the number of years we’re looking at so that we can start to say something about longer term trends and changes in distribution,” Buler said. “We’re building a larger knowledge base from this system and continuing to explore questions related to bird migration throughout the whole northeastern United States.”

Meeting representation

At the Oklahoma meeting, Buler said UD was well represented as he organized a workshop in “Weather Radar Ornithology 101” and a symposium on “Recent Scientific Applications of Weather Radar for Advancing Ornithology.” Five out of the 15 presentations at the symposium were by current UD affiliates. Buler, along with an undergraduate, two graduate students and a post-doctoral researcher, gave presentations.

Additionally, a former UD graduate student of Buler and Sid Gauthreaux, Buler’s “academic grandfather” who he called the “pioneer of radar ornithology in America,” also presented at the symposium.

Buler also became an elected fellow of the American Ornithologists’ Union during the meeting in recognition for his contributions to ornithology.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Evan Krape

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Ryan Arsenault New Professor Profile

New Professor Profile Ryan ArsenaultCould you give a little background about yourself?

I did both my undergrad and my graduate studies at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada and my actual research was done at an institute called the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO) so it’s focused on disease research and vaccine development in humans and animals.

My work was on prion diseases and Mycobacterium avium paratuberculosis, and while I was there I developed a tool to study cellular signaling. Basically, the phosphorylation dependent signaling that happens inside cells. The tool already existed for humans and mice, but part of my work was adapting it to cattle and other agricultural species.

From there, I went to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in College Station, Texas. I was part of a food safety unit, but our perspective was modulating the immune system in animals in some way so the animal could fight off disease to make the food products safer for people.

Predominantly, we were looking at Salmonella contamination from infected chickens. We tried to limit that by understanding and modulating the immune responses in the gut.

How did you hear about this position and UD?

My position at USDA was a postdoctoral position so I knew that it was always going to be temporary. I had been on the hunt across North America for positions and for the next thing and this one at UD came up. It was perfect because the description was food animal biologist and it involved both the biology of animals and the food safety aspect, linking the two components of this department, animal science and food science.

I had done the food safety aspect from the animal biology side so it seemed like a perfect fit and luckily I got the job.

How did you get interested in animals and animal disease?

I actually grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan so I have been around animals since the day I was born. It is interesting because even though the University of Saskatchewan is a major agricultural university in Canada, the department where I did both my undergrad and my graduate degree, biochemistry, was actually part of the college of medicine. But the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization, where I did my research, had historically been an animal research unit that had transitioned more into human medicine. My transition was sort of gradual in moving from purely a biochemistry perspective in the college of medicine to researching zoonotic animal disease at VIDO and then jumping into USDA where it was strictly animals. So it was a sort of subtle transition but by design I guess.

What are your impressions of UD and CANR?

All positive. The University is great and everyone I’ve met has been great. The campus is very nice and having the farm right here is a big advantage, especially being on the east coast. I really like how the college and department are set up: I find it an advantage that there is no veterinary school at UD because the Department of Animal and Food Sciences gets to do all the animal infectious disease research. In a lot of universities with a veterinary school, it’s very segregated and the animal science departments don’t get to touch disease work because that’s the veterinary realm. But this is great because you have a lot more freedom to do that kind of work. It is also a big advantage for the undergraduates in the department, because they get that research exposure.

 What are you most looking forward to about the job?

A lot of things. I’m working on getting the lab set up in Worrilow Hall so I’m excited to get back in the lab and start to bring some graduate students in. To get them in my lab and doing some science, that will be fun. It’s nice to be back in academia. After working for the government for the past few years, I missed the university environment and the interaction with students.

What will you be studying in your lab?

It will be centered around cell signaling but it will include a few different components.

I will continue with the infectious disease work, I want to continue with the host/pathogen research with chickens as well as cattle, initially. A lot of this research is centered on gut health and the microbiome which will continue.

I transitioned at the USDA into looking at a more integrated approach between metabolism and immunity and the connections between the two. Metabolism and immunity are both often regulated by cell signaling and there’s a lot of interactions which a lot of people don’t think about. How certain immune responses are dependent on changes in metabolism or how metabolism can be affected by the mounting of an immune response, or an inflammatory response, it totally changes the metabolism of the cells in the tissue. So I’m looking at integrating those and hopefully that will help develop both novel targets for disease, where you can target metabolic machinery rather than immune machinery, and also help with the balance between growth and immunity in animals. We’ve focused a lot on growing a bigger chicken or growing it faster and sometimes that comes at the expense of how well it’s able to fight off disease. To try and get that balance back in animal agriculture is sort of a broad overview of what I’m looking at.

Do you have any interesting hobbies outside of work?

One thing that I am interested in doing again is getting back into curling. I did that a lot when I was in Canada and then I moved to Texas, where it obviously doesn’t exist, and so I’ve seen there’s a few curling clubs in the region so I’m thinking about getting back into that.

Article by Adam Thomas

University of Delaware Cooperative Extension expands literacy for children in state

Cooperative Extension partners with the Molina Foundation to hand out free booksUniversity of Delaware Cooperative Extension has partnered with the Molina Foundation, a national nonprofit organization focused on reducing gaps in health and education – specifically by improving literacy among children of low-income and high-risk families – to distribute around 30,000 children’s books donated by the foundation for use by young people throughout the state of Delaware.

Books were given away last week at the Delaware State Fair, with over 6,000 distributed to youths in attendance.

“The parents and the children just love them. They had great smiles on their faces when they got the books,” said Kathleen Splane, Extension agent and state program leader for Cooperative Extension’s family and consumer sciences program.

At the fair, teenage volunteers took fully stocked wagons and golf carts loaded with boxes of books and distributed them to children around the fairgrounds, and encouraged them to stop by the 4-H building to get more. They also took armloads of books out to distribute to fairgoers.

In addition to teen volunteers passing the books out at the fair, the Extension Scholars were called on to aid in the organization and distribution process, which was overseen by Oriole O’Neill, an Extension employee.

Some of the books will go to children in the 4-H Food Smart Families summer camps and others will be handed out at a number of distribution sites, including the food pantry at the Church of the Holy Cross in Dover and the Hilltop Community Center in Wilmington.

Splane said that those books geared toward an older, 8-12-year-old audience are being distributed through the 4-H Food Smart Families program.

“We are giving the kids bags of groceries to take home through the program and we’re putting the books in as an extra thing with that,” Splane said.

In addition to these distributions, child care providers will be invited to each of the county Cooperative Extension offices to pick up books that they can use at their sites.

A few of the titles being offered are:

  • Sophia the First and the Floating Palace by Catherine Hapka
  • The Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan
  • Jake and the Never Land Pirates: Mama Hook Knows Best by Sharon Osbourne
  • Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan
  • Minnie’s Busy Bow-tique by the Disney Book Group
  • The Avengers: A Mighty Sticker Book by the Disney Book Group

These titles, among many others, are geared toward all different age groups for children, with about 20,000 of the 30,000 books targeted for the 3-5 child age range. Older youths are encouraged to read these preschool level books to a younger sibling, cousin or neighbor.

The books have been sorted by age range, stamped with Cooperative Extension and Molina Foundation stickers, and grouped based on their intended location: New Castle County, Kent County and Sussex County.

Many volunteers were integral in helping with this process and on one day, eight volunteers sorted and placed stickers on roughly 3,000 books over the course of three hours.

Making a difference

Many parents know that reading with their children at home is important, as it enables them to improve communication and speech skills, excel in school, make progress in logical thinking skills and enhance concentration, Splane said.

“It also helps them to learn that reading is fun,” she added. “Through this project, the Molina Foundation and UD Cooperative Extension will help expand the value that reading offers to kids.”

Splane said she believes “the generous book donation from Molina Foundation allows children throughout the state of Delaware to receive quality books that will instill a love of reading. Some older children received books for younger siblings and have enjoyed reading out loud to them.”

Article by Katie Russel

Photos by Michele Walfred

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Gelb Testifies on Avian Flu in Nation’s Capitol

Jack Gelb testifies in front of congress on avian influenzaOn Wednesday, July 8, Jack Gelb, professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences and director of the Avian Bioscience Center (ABC) at the University of Delaware, testified before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in Washington, D.C. as part of an expert panel addressing the current H5N2 avian influenza (AI) outbreak that has occurred this winter and spring in some Western and Midwestern states.

Other panel members included John Clifford, chief veterinary officer for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Anne Schuchat, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, Christopher Currie, director of the Emergency Management and National Preparedness Issues for the Government Accountability Office, and Scott Schneider, president of the Wisconsin Poultry and Egg Industries Association.

Below is an interview with Gelb.

Why was it important to testify about AI?

We have in depth experience in Delaware dealing with avian flu both in our research and through actual experience in a real world outbreak. It is important to do these things for the greater good and it was an honor to have the opportunity to testify.

How was your testimony made possible?

I testified at the invitation of U.S. Senator Tom Carper, the ranking member of the Committee. The Senator wanted me to share the perspective and experience that we in Delaware have on controlling avian influenza in poultry, based on the very successful outcome to controlling the disease we had here in 2004. Members of the Senator’s staff had been in contact with me for about a month or so before the D.C. hearing.

I have known Senator Carper for quite a number of years. He has long been a champion of Delaware agriculture and supportive of the University’s role. Last spring, Senator Carper and I were among the speakers at the open house following the $4 million renovation of UD’s Lasher Lab at the Georgetown campus. He heard my perspective on avian flu and I think that’s how he got the idea to invite me.

Senator Carper introduced me at the hearing. He made very thoughtful remarks about the economic and dietary importance of poultry in Delaware, the United States and in the many countries that receive our poultry exports.

How is UD prepared if an AI outbreak happens in the Delmarva region?

We at UD have close working partnerships with others in the state including Secretary of Agriculture Ed Kee and State Veterinarian Heather Hirst and their team at the Delaware Department of Agriculture. UD outreach faculty and Extension staff regularly meet with poultry farmers and health experts of the poultry production companies. All are committed to keeping Delaware poultry free from avian flu.

We are exceedingly fortunate to have facilities at UD that are among the very best in the world. The Charles C. Allen Jr. Biotechnology Laboratory in Newark is one of a handful of facilities across the globe where faculty can perform research on high path avian flu, to understand how the virus causes the disease and ultimately, how to prevent or better control it. The newly renovated Lasher Lab is on the front lines of the avian flu battle in the heart of Sussex County. Lasher Lab now contains a new, secure biocontainment suite specifically for detection of AI virus in specimens from suspect poultry flocks.

Our two UD poultry labs in Newark and Georgetown are part of a much larger network called the USDA’s National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN). We just achieved an elevated ranking in the NAHLN earlier this year, which is a testament to our facilities and our outstanding lab staff.

But the farmers have the most important role of all in the AI fight. They have to recognize that there’s a problem right away. Maybe their flock’s mortality rate is higher than normal and perhaps drinking water or feed consumption is off. Farmers know their poultry, their behavior and they can tell, when their flocks are not “acting right.” So a farmer needs to report a problem immediately and then that triggers samples coming to the lab for testing. That’s when we at UD really come into the picture for the first time. UD faculty and staff also provide important advisory and training support in order to contain AI on a farm so it does not spread to other farms.

How long does it take to process a test sample?

It only takes about three hours to have an answer on a test sample. Farmers and poultry company personnel are trained to take what amounts to throat swabs. The swabs will then be sent immediately to the Lasher Lab where they will be tested using a procedure called real time polymerase chain reaction (PCR). UD was one of the first labs in the world to use PCR in an outbreak and the very rapid turnaround time proved to be a key in controlling the AI outbreak here in 2004. An AI positive test finding by the lab would trigger in Delaware a carefully scripted response plan designed to minimize transmission of the disease to other farms.

Article by Adam Thomas

Emergency Poultry Disease Response workshop considers biosecurity, rapid response

U.S. Senator Chris Coons was a part of the Emergency Poultry Disease Response training discussion at the Charles C. Allen Jr. Biotechnology Laboratory today.Educating the national and international poultry community about how to best respond to disease outbreaks is of the upmost importance to the University of Delaware, and in a year when avian influenza has spread throughout the world, that mission takes on an extra level of importance.

It was with that in mind that 19 participants from 18 countries took part in UD’s Emergency Poultry Disease Response (EPDR) certificate program, held at the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources in June.

The program was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) in conjunction with UD’s Division of Professional and Continuing Studies and is part of a combination of science-based training programs provided by UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) and the Avian Biosciences Center (ABC) to help Delaware’s national and international emergency disease response capability.

The program was led by Eric Benson, professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences (ANFS); Jack Gelb, professor in ANFS and director of the ABC; Robert Alphin, instructor in ANFS and manager of the University’s Allen Laboratory; George Irvine, assistant director of organizational learning solutions in Professional and Continuing Studies; and Dan Hougentogler, senior research associate in ANFS.

The participants spent five days learning about the avian influenza virus, disease surveillance and outbreak response and control, among other topics.

The training program also presented and utilized the “Delaware model,” which emphasizes close cooperation among government, industry and educational institutions to manage avian influenza outbreaks with best management practices and technologies related to controlling outbreaks of avian influenza and other diseases.

The participants were able to listen to experts from across the country lecture on specific topics — such as the current status of avian influenza in wild birds and how to effectively manage live bird markets — and got to meet and pose questions to U.S. Sen. Chris Coons.

Coons thanked the participants for attending and noted that the EPDR program has trained over 100 poultry professionals from around the world since it began in 2009.

Coons said that during travels around the world in his five years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he has been “struck by the power of poultry to deliver protein to a hungry world and its capacity as the way that we move protein that is environmentally sustainable, that is economically producible and that can generate meaningful jobs from farm to plate in countries all over the world.”

Coons said that with the number of jobs that can be created and the ease with which the poultry industry can be scaled up, “If we can get the whole system supporting poultry right, if we can fend off avian influenza and develop better technology transfer and training, we can make an impressive and lasting difference for all the hungry people of the world whom we are together hoping to feed.”

CANR Dean Mark Rieger was on hand to welcome Coons and called the senator “a true friend of agriculture in Delaware and across the globe” and noted how in 2014 Coons was awarded the Friend of Cooperative Extension Award, the highest honor bestowed on non-extension personnel to recognize their efforts to support agriculture and extension in Delaware.

Alphin said that the program participants were mostly veterinarians or government professionals in agriculture, adding that the program was heavily focused on avian influenza this year because of the “unprecedented number of outbreaks of avian influenza not only in our country but all over the world. All continents are being impacted by this.”

Gelb, who testified before a U.S. Senate committee on the avian flu threat on July 8, added, “The world is experiencing more frequent avian influenza outbreaks and the threat to poultry and egg production has never been greater. The EPDR training program continues to serve critical role in helping countries successfully prevent and control this devastating poultry disease.”

The course offerings were concentrated on trying to understand how this outbreak was different than those of the past and to talk about lessons that have been learned from the current outbreak.

“We not only want to teach principles but we want to really give hands-on experience to participants, and also to help them benefit from the lessons learned in the field from actual responses – that was kind of the key concept we were trying to capture for this particular program,” said Alphin.

Benson said that this year’s EPDR program was particularly interesting and applicable because “it was taught in the context of the current and worst highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreak in United States history.”

Benson also said that one of the great things about running the program for several years is beginning to see the impact of the EPDR.

“A great example of this is one of the participants from last year came from Ghana and this summer successfully adapted and implemented our U.S.-centric model to respond to avian influenza outbreak in his home country. This is the type of impact the program is having now, several years into the program, and those impacts are becoming increasingly visible,” said Benson.

Because the participants were visitors to the state and the University, there were several side trips including a tour of Newark, a trip to the Christiana Mall, a tour of a poultry farm, as well as a visit to Rehoboth Beach. The program also hosted a group dinner at Klondike Kate’s.

“Because of the small number of participants, we really get to know them all. We learn from them, as well, because the participants have to deal with disease challenges in their own country, and so we try to make it a shared experience,” said Alphin.

UD students work closely with Benson, Alphin, Gelb and their project team to implement the program. “The EPDR program provides a two-way education, with our UD interns learning and helping to teach the participants,” said Benson, adding that this year’s class of interns was particularly outstanding.

Participants came from countries including Mozambique, Tunisia, Benin, South Africa, India, Japan, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Mauritius, Honduras, Kenya, Belize, Cambodia, Vietnam, Guatemala, Barbados and South Korea.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Lindsay Yeager

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Serviam Girls Academy students learn about soils at inaugural camp at UD

Serviam Girls Academy students learn about soils at inaugural camp at UDThe inaugural Soil Is Life summer camp was held July 10 as 45 students from Serviam Girls Academy spent time on the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources campus learning from Angelia Seyfferth about the importance of soils.

The camp was funded by a five-year National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development Award that Seyfferth received in 2014.

Because the United Nations has designated 2015 the International Year of Soils, Seyfferth, assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences (PLSC), said that it was a perfect time to launch the inaugural camp.

The campers were able to get hands-on experience with soils and plants as they toured the 12 rice paddies that were recently installed on UD’s Newark Farm as part of the Rice Investigation, Communication and Education (RICE) Facility.

They also toured a cornfield, investigated a soil pit and toured the organic vegetable farm created earlier in the year by Mike Popovich, a research associate in PLSC, and CANR Dean Mark Rieger. The students got to see vegetables growing in the garden and to learn about compost.

“For many of the students, because they are from the inner city of Wilmington, they’ve had very little experience even walking off the sidewalk let alone walking onto a farm,” said Seyfferth. “So for many of them, it was very new and different than what they’re used to.”

Rachael Romond, enrichment program director, graduate support director and summer program director at Serviam, said that getting the students away from their typical environment and out of their comfort zone was one of the most beneficial aspects of the camp.

“I think taking them out of their environment really was beneficial,” said Romond. “Bugs were everywhere and they were kind of freaking out, screaming about bugs and the dirt and the soil, but at the end of the day, they loved it. You could see the joy on their faces.”

Because of the size of the group, Seyfferth had help from members of her lab group as well as Nicole Donofrio, associate professor in PLSC, who gave the students an introduction to plant pathology and had a plant disease game with prizes for the students who participated.

“Because there was such a large group, doing it by myself would have been impossible,” Seyfferth said, adding, “Nicole was a great help, as were the members of my lab group, as almost everybody participated in some aspect of the camp.”

During lunch, the students took part in a trivia game in which Seyfferth asked questions about what they talked about earlier in the field and those with correct answers were awarded prizes.

The students also were able to complete an activity in which they painted using soil.

“One of the things I tried to relate to them is that, in addition to plants using soil for food, we also get pigments from soil minerals. The BareMinerals makeup has iron oxides, titanium dioxides, mica — all components of soil that are used to create this mineral makeup. We even used some of the mineral makeup to make soil paint,” said Seyfferth.

The students also planted rice seedlings in pots and were able to take them home with them at the end of the day.

Early soil exposure

Seyfferth said the Soil Is Life camp is geared toward middle school students because exposing them to the importance of soils at an early age is of the utmost importance.

“When we see UD students coming in as freshman, they’ve had very little exposure to soils and what they are and what they mean for our future,” said Seyfferth. “I think that introducing them at a young age teaches them to appreciate soil, to understand that there is a science around soil and that it is a resource that’s very precious.”

Seyfferth added, “It takes a long time for a soil to develop but it takes a relatively shorter amount of time to degrade, and we can’t just make more soil. Teaching them to preserve it and to appreciate it is important and hopefully we can inspire them to consider going into environmental sciences or soil sciences as a career choice.”

Romond said that providing young females from underrepresented populations exposure to science and scientific careers is an important part of Serviam’s mission.

“We do a lot of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) work at Serviam. We really try to expose the students to different career paths that they might be interested in,” Romond said. “There’s an extreme lack of minority females in the science field, and we are primarily an African-American and Hispanic population, so it’s really important that we expose them to things that they never knew they had access to before, things that they never even knew existed. Some of them might not even have known what environmental science was, or what a rice paddy was, or what a soil pit was.”

Soil, not dirt

One big takeaway Seyfferth wanted the students to get from the camp is that soil is not dirt.

“Once the soil is removed from its environment, it’s no longer a functioning soil. It can’t support plant life, it’s no longer soil. That’s dirt, and soil is very different than dirt,” she said. “Soil is something that is the Earth’s natural sponge. It’s important for cleaning water, for providing nutrients for plant growth, and for providing an ecosystem in which things like gophers and earthworms and other soil organisms can survive.”

The message resonated with one student in particular who, when asked in a post-camp survey if they had learned anything new, answered, “Yes – that soil is not dirt. Because I always thought it was.”

The camp ended with a trip to the UDairy Creamery where the campers were treated to ice cream courtesy of Rieger.

“At the end of the day, they got to enjoy the ice cream and understand the connection between the soil that provides the grass for the cows to eat to make the milk that makes the ice cream they can enjoy,” said Seyfferth.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Lindsay Yeager and Rachael Romond

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD graduate Radhika Samant finds career with Thomson Reuters

UD graduate Radhika Samant finds career with Thomson ReutersRecent University of Delaware graduate Radhika Samant always envisioned herself beginning her career in the environmental field but when she was offered a job to work at Thomson Reuters in New York City following Commencement, the opportunity was too good to pass up.

Samant, who graduated in May with a bachelor of science degree in environmental and resource economics from the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics (APEC) in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and a bachelor of arts degree in economics from the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics, will begin work in the Thomson Reuters client specialist associates program.

She will shadow current specialists and meet with clients and guide them through the process of using the company’s products and services, all the while getting feedback from those clients and reporting it back to the firm.

“I will be the face of Thomson Reuters for our clients,” said Samant who added that although the job isn’t directly in the environmental field, she is thrilled to work for a company that takes initiatives to be environmentally friendly.

“They truly embody those green principles, so I’m excited to be working for a company that’s more green in its vision than others,” said Samant.

Another thing that has Samant excited is the fact that she will be living in New York City with an office in Times Square.

“It will be overwhelming coming from a small town in Delaware – and Delaware will always be my home – but I’m excited to explore the city and have a new beginning,” said Samant.

Rigorous job application 

As for the application process, Samant explained that she was chosen out of a field of over 800 applicants nationwide, although she didn’t know the job was that competitive when she initially applied.

“I had no idea there were 800 applicants for the New York office – they’re also launching the client specialist associates program in Chicago and Toronto – and they narrowed it down to a couple hundred for a video interview,” said Samant, adding, “I’m glad I didn’t know how competitive it was because I kind of just put my best foot forward.”

After the video interview, Thomson Reuters narrowed the field to 36 finalists and Samant traveled to New York City for an all-day interview process that involved group and individual activities.

“I had to prepare two pitches beforehand and had individual interviews, and they observed us doing group scenario work, so it was definitely the most difficult interview I’ve done. But I really liked it because it gave you a lot of opportunity to explain why you’d be good for the job,” said Samant.

Samant said that there were around 19 client specialist associates hired in all of North America, with 10 of the new hires in the New York office. She expects that the new associates will be working as a team until they start getting their own individual clients.

Career advice

For UD students who will be graduating and entering the world of work, Samant said her best advice is to use the University Career Services Center’s Blue Hen Careers system, to take advantage of the opportunities given to them by the UD faculty, and to keep an open mind.

“Blue Hen Careers is where I found most of the jobs that I applied to. I found this one on Blue Hen Careers and I would say that you should just apply for anything,” Samant said. “If you think you’re under qualified or even overqualified or if you think it’s a job that you hadn’t considered before, just apply everywhere and keep your ears and eyes open.  Just be persistent and don’t get discouraged at all.”

She praised the assistance offered by UD faculty members, citing Steven Hastings, professor and associate chair of APEC. She said professors are “always helping you out, and sending you different job postings – it will be fine.”

Samant said she interviewed and applied for different jobs throughout her senior year, and was surprised at how difficult it was to find a job.

“Thomson Reuters was the first job that I interviewed for right after I graduated and it was the one I ended up getting. I feel very lucky and I’m really excited,” said Samant.

Being active with internships was also key for Samant, who did an internship each summer as an undergrad at UD – one in entrepreneurial studies, one with APEC professor Tom Ilvento and one with the Delaware Water Resources Center.

Samant also said that having the double major allowed her to get exposure to the world of economics and the environment.

“I think with an economics degree, it’s not as specific so it leaves a lot of room to study what you want to study,” she said. “Not only did I study economics in depth but I also got to take those concepts and apply them to natural resource management and environmental issues. That’s something that I could take either way – I could go down the environmental route or go down the business route, it’s an intersection of both so I think that it was really cool to have that.”

She also said she enjoyed studying in APEC.

“I feel like faculty in this department actually know their students by first name, which is hard to find in a lot of bigger universities. But Dr. Hastings has helped me with everything from classes to internships to jobs. He really had a huge impact on my college career, and the entire faculty was great.”

In addition to Hastings and Ilvento, she cited Joshua Duke, professor of food and resource economics, economics and legal studies, who she said was a favorite.

“Everyone in the department is really great,” said Samant.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Steve Hastings

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD’s Griffiths dives into underwater research in the Caribbean

UD's Brian Griffiths spends summer studying marine life at the Central Caribbean Marine InstituteUniversity of Delaware undergraduate student Brian Griffiths is spending his time this summer with sharks, eagle rays, massive corals, turtles and schools of endangered fish as he conducts underwater research on seagrass in the Caribbean at the Central Caribbean Marine Institute (CCMI) in the Cayman Islands.

Griffiths’ research is part of the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program funded through a grant CCMI received from the National Science Foundation to study coral reef biodiversity and resilience at the Little Cayman Research Centre.

Griffiths, a senior Honors Program student who is majoring in environmental engineering and plant science with a minor in Spanish, is specifically focused on the discovery of an ecomorph of a species of seagrass, Thalassia testudinum.

“This species of seagrass is known to be able to change its morphology based on its environment, and I think this new form may be due to differing sediment characteristics,” said Griffiths, who takes 8-inch cores of seagrass out of different lagoons on the island and dissects them to count meristems – the tissue of a plant containing undifferentiated cells – and the number of shoots.

Griffiths also takes and analyzes sediment cores from the locations to determine what they are made up of and their thickness. He is hoping to find a correlation between the occurrence of the strange seagrass and the properties of the sediment in which it is found.

Seagrass meadows, along with algae, are important to reefs as they are often the first steps in forming the ecosystems and are the main food source for organisms such as sea turtles.

“Without seagrass, none of these ecosystems could exist, although it is often overlooked,” said Griffiths.

In addition to his seagrass research, which is usually conducted in the afternoon, Griffiths also does two morning dives where he takes photographs, runs transects to identify coral and fish populations, and also finds critically endangered coral species.

“We also do specialty dives, like lionfish culls,” said Griffiths. “A typical dive may last 45 minutes at 60 or 70 feet, then we come back to the boat and have a 45 minute surface interval before swapping our gear and going down again at a different site to do the same.”

Lionfish culls can also occur during the evenings, as Griffiths said that the species is incredibly invasive and venomous and that in addition to stinging tourists, they wreak havoc on the reefs, killing herbivorous fish that in turn results in the overgrowth of algae and death of corals.

Griffiths said he jumped into research scuba diving when he was coming up with a list of things that he thought were exciting but had never done.

“I had always wanted to be a diver. Doing research underwater, however, is a different story – it isn’t all swimming with turtles and sharks because we have a job to do. We are often dropped in places with huge amounts of surge and massive currents that sweep you onto your back when you come over the reef wall,” said Griffiths, who added that he enjoys doing field work and that CCMI and its staff are on the cutting edge of reef research in one of the last pristine, untouched marine reef ecosystems in the world.

“I was attracted by the prospect of doing work that had a visible impact in a highly vulnerable environment like the reef systems. It was also somewhat of an exploration for me in that I had never before conducted work underwater or done any research related to marine biology. I thought that by jumping in and getting my hands dirty I would be able to decide what I ultimately want to spend my life studying,” said Griffiths.

Griffiths is being mentored by CCMI’s Greg Foster, and he said that Foster is a great role model.

As for his favorite part about the program, Griffiths said that it had to be the diving.

“It takes my breath away every time. There is nothing like the first few seconds of dropping below the water level and seeing the world thriving beneath you. I often have to remind myself that I have a job to do so I don’t waste all of my air staring at everything,” said Griffiths.

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD scientists develop new water quality collaboration with researchers in France

Shreeram Inamdar has developed a new collaboration with researchers in France concerning water quality.Shreeram Inamdar, professor in the University of Delaware’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences and director of the water science and policy graduate program, has developed a new collaboration with researchers in France concerning water quality.

Inamdar is working with Anne Jaffrezic and Laurent Jeanneau, scientists at the University of Rennes and the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS).

The partnership was initiated in January when Guillaume Humbert, a doctoral student of Jaffrezic, traveled to UD on a French scholarship for a three-month study visit. He worked with Inamdar and Thomas Parr, a postdoctoral scientist, to develop a mathematical model to characterize dissolved organic matter in soils and streams for his study catchment in France. A publication on this work is in preparation.

On March 5-7, Jaffrezic and Jeanneau visited UD and presented a research seminar titled “Dissolved Organic Matter Biogeochemistry at the Critical Zone Observatory AgrHys (France): A French ‘Promenade’ Through Temporal and Spatial Scales.”

They met with various UD faculty members and visited the Fair Hill experimental watershed in nearby Maryland, where Inamdar and colleagues are studying the impacts of extreme weather events on water quality and aquatic ecosystem processes. Their visit occurred at a time when Newark and the surrounding region were pummeled with a large snow event, which is atypical for the region.

To further strengthen the partnership, Inamdar made a return visit to France on June 23-27 and presented an invited talk at the University of Rennes and CNRS. He also visited the French watershed study site, the Kervidy-Naizin catchment in Brittany that is part of the Critical Zone Observatories (CZO) network in Europe.

Researchers at the site are investigating how fertilizer use and other practices in agricultural watersheds are impacting the concentrations of nutrients – nitrogen and phosphorus – in streams draining these landscapes.

Similar to the Fair Hill experimental watershed, streams in this watershed have been instrumented with state-of-the-art, in situ electronic sensors that measure and record water quality every 15 to 30 minutes.

This high-frequency water chemistry data is especially valuable to study sudden changes in water quality, also referred to as “hot moments.” Such changes could occur during large storm events, ecological events such as autumn leaf fall and/or anthropogenic pulse inputs of pollutants or contaminants.

Understanding these sudden changes in water quality and the value and reliability of the sensors is an important research priority and one of the focus areas of this collaboration.

Future plans involve additional study visits by French doctoral students and faculty members to UD in 2016 and data and results comparisons between the two experimental watersheds.

The partnership and Inamdar’s visit to France were supported by the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) Track 1 and 2 awards to UD.

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD graduate Jessica Palmer offers advice to future vet school applicants

Jessica Palmer offers advice for applying to veterinary schoolWhen Jessica Palmer enrolled in the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, she knew that she wanted to go to veterinary school upon graduation and, as with most pre-veterinary medicine and animal biosciences students, she knew that an arduous application process and difficult workload awaited.

Palmer spent a month and a half of one summer filling out applications and when it was all over, she had been accepted into not one but eight veterinary schools, providing a range of choices.

Ultimately Palmer chose to study in the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine. After finishing her first year there, she is participating in the college’s summer scholars research program and working in a laboratory, and will begin her second year of studies in mid-August.

Palmer, who graduated from UD in 2014 with a dual degree in pre-veterinary medicine and animal biosciences and Latin, said she loves the college, the professors and the location in Raleigh.

Palmer isn’t studying one specific type of veterinary practice, as she doesn’t have to pick a track until her third year. While she is keeping an open mind, she said she will probably pursue a career that features work with small animals, such as cats and dogs – part of the reason she wanted to become a veterinarian.

“It’s that typical story. I just loved animals, and I looked more into it. I enjoyed the medicine aspect, too, so I went into UD and did the pre-vet program,” Palmer said. “I ended up saying, ‘Yeah, I’m going to go for it,’ and applied everywhere.”

As for the application process, Palmer admitted that it was tough. To get through it, she set goals for herself during the day and did a little bit at a time.

“I worked at Empowered Yoga in the Newark Shopping Center on Main Street and during the classes, when I had down time, I would log in and do a little bit of the application process at a time and try to get that done. So it wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t fun either,” said Palmer.

When the process was over, Palmer found that she was accepted into eight different veterinary schools and ended up at North Carolina State, which was her first choice.

UD education valuable

As to how the pre-veterinary medicine and animal biosciences program at UD helped prepare her for vet school, Palmer said that a big plus was that the University allows students to get all of the course prerequisites required for vet school. She also said that the anatomy and physiology classes were very helpful, and that being able to get hands-on experience during her freshman year was a big plus.

“Freshman year, we got to go to the farm and raise some calves and chart their growth. That was a really good opportunity,” Palmer said. “I hadn’t worked with farm animals before so it was great that we have this farm and we were able to go have those labs, see the beef cattle, the horses, the poultry.”

Hands-on work with the animals “was helpful, even when it was rainy out or really early and you didn’t want to go,” Palmer said. “It was a really good thing to do. The farm is one of the program’s biggest assets.”

Palmer singled out Robert Dyer, associate professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences, as being especially helpful.

“He is so enthusiastic. You can tell he loves what he’s doing and he loves being a vet. He is funny and encouraging,” said Palmer.

Advice for students

Palmer said students applying or thinking about applying to veterinary school shouldn’t be afraid to pursue their other passions at the undergraduate level.

“Don’t worry too much about timing – your advisers will work with you,” she said. “Take the weird, fun classes that you want to take. I was actually a dual degree. I got a degree in Latin, as well, and I did that because I enjoyed it and I figured, ‘I’m about to go to vet school and I want to have experiences with a variety of other subject areas and classes before I devote my life to veterinary medicine.’”

Palmer said that while getting good grades is important, being well-rounded might be even more important and that it is crucial to log veterinary and animal experience hours as an undergrad — one thing that she learned the hard way.

“That was one thing that I had to play catch-up on and it was a little bit stressful. North Carolina State doesn’t even consider your application if you have less than 400 hours at a veterinary clinic, so if you have 200 hours and you feel like you’ve been doing it for a while, it still doesn’t cut it. Get the vet hours early,” said Palmer who did her work at Nonantum Veterinary Clinic in Pennsylvania.

The biggest piece of advice she offered, though, is that while the process is tough and can seem insurmountable at times, students shouldn’t be afraid to apply.

“You look at it and it’s pretty daunting at first, but you can do it,” said Palmer. “Just take it day by day and the professors at UD and the different clinics around Newark can be really helpful if you just reach out and ask and see what sort of opportunities there are. If you want to do it, there are always ways to pursue it.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo courtesy of Jessica Palmer

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Awokuse named chair-elect for agricultural economics administrators group

Awakes named Chair Elect for National Association of Agricultural Economics Administrators The University of Delaware’s Titus Awokuse has been named chair-elect for the National Association of Agricultural Economics Administrators (NAAEA), a section of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (AAEA).

Awokuse, chair of the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics (APEC) in UD’s College of Agricultural and Natural Resources (CANR), will assume his role on July 26 during a meeting to be held in San Francisco.

Of being named chair-elect, Awokuse said, “I feel honored to be elected because it’s always special when your peers choose you to lead them.”

Awokuse has been involved with the organization for the last four years and explained that being named chair-elect means he will begin a three-year term that will see him serve as chair-elect the first year, chair of the organization for the second year and then past chair in the third year.

According to Awokuse, it is structured this way to ensure continuity in terms of leadership.

As chair-elect, Awokuse will plan the meetings for next year in addition to other responsibilities.

The NAAEA is comprised of department chairs in agricultural and applied economics across the nation and as part of the association’s function they organize workshops and symposia on important agricultural policy issues that affect the agricultural and resource economics profession.

“The group advocates for professional issues with regard to educational programing and students’ training, academic leadership development, research promotion, and strategic responses to the societal challenges of our day,” said Awokuse.

The association provides advice and recommendations to government agencies and policy makers on important issues. It also serves as a source of information dissemination on best practices in terms of administrative leadership of academic departments in the agricultural and applied economics profession.

“We have a bi-annual meeting in addition to the annual meetings focused on special policy issues of relevance to the profession. It is usually held in Washington, D.C., and we invite legislators and policymakers from Capitol Hill as participants in the meetings,” said Awokuse.

At the meeting, there is a forum with presentations about legislations in Congress concerning the food industry or national agricultural and farm policy.

“This bi-annual meetings organized by this association plays an important role as it also serves as a forum for responding to crucial questions being asked by policymakers,” said Awokuse.

Awokuse also said that the group plays an advocacy role for the profession.

“As a leader, a department chair has the ability to influence the implementation of an institution’s mission and strategic agenda and can also promote scholarship in an academic discipline by supporting and facilitating the research work of colleagues in the department,” said Awokuse. “I see the role of a department chair as primarily being one that enables others to do their work better. We serve as facilitators, working to create an environment where people can do their jobs effectively and efficiently.”

As for how Awokuse handles the workload of being department chair and serving on various national and international agricultural committees — he also was named to the Nigerian National Agricultural Policy Committee in 2014 — he said it’s important to be organized and to prioritize which projects and service opportunities to take on.

“I don’t do everything. Time is a very scarce resource. I respond to requests and invitations that are relevant to my research and professional interests, and also commit to activities that are consistent with my passion and appointment,” said Awokuse.

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD students travel to California to learn about technology within produce industry

Four UD students attended the 2015 Produce Marketing Association Foundation Tech Knowledge ConferenceThe University of Delaware Career Services Center and the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) collaborated with the Produce Marketing Association Foundation to offer an interdisciplinary group of UD students an all-expenses-paid trip to explore career opportunities in the produce industry at the PMA Tech Knowledge conference in Monterey, California.

There, the students learned about new technology and innovations in the industry.

The students who attended PMA Tech Knowledge were Danielle DaGrosa and Taylor Jaffe, who recently graduated from CANR with bachelor’s degrees in food science; Grant Wing, a senior in the College of Engineering; and Julia Winkeler, a senior plant science major in CANR. The four students were selected from a competitive pool of 24 applicants.

Joyce Henderson, Career Services Center assistant director for employer partnerships, said the PMA has been an employer partner with the center for three years. The Tech Knowledge conference is the third career conference that has been offered to UD students.

“The all-expenses-paid conferences are attractive to students because they are an awesome way for students to learn about the industry and to expand their networks. To be eligible to participate in the PMA conferences, students must complete an application and go through an interview process,” Henderson said.

The students were accompanied on the trip by Kali Kniel, professor of animal and food sciences in CANR.

“The whole point of the trip was to inform students about the produce industry,” Kniel said. “I think people are interested in learning about food products that are healthy and that we all consume. Also, there’s so much technology in the business, which is a constantly changing industry.”

On the trip, students met with industry leaders to learn about the potential for incorporating higher level technologies into production of fruits and vegetables, such as sensory applications to enhance the aroma and the consumer experience.

Other new technologies in the industry include the use of drones for monitoring fields, nanotechnology for use in packaging and growing, 3-D printing for use in manufacturing, harvesting and growing, the use of big data, and entrepreneurship.

Networking opportunities were among the most beneficial aspects of the trip, as the students were paired with career ambassadors who helped explain the responsibilities associated with their various jobs and who introduced the students to colleagues.

DaGrosa was paired with a career ambassador who worked in food safety for Chipotle.

“I got to talk to him about all the recent changes they’ve been making in their company policies, and I got to ask him all about what he does. It was really cool to see what kinds of things that company is doing from a food safety standpoint,” said DaGrosa.

The students were also able to meet representatives from companies such as DuPont, Monsanto and Taylor Farms, among others.

“During pretty much every meal we ate, we were networking, so I got to meet a lot of really great people and pick their brains for any advice they might have for me as I go forward into my career,” said DaGrosa. “Also, I made some contacts that I know I can reach out to if I would like to try and find work in that industry.”

Kniel said opportunities to meet professionals in the industry are great for the students as “people in the produce industry are like no others. They are the nicest people. They are so passionate about what they do, and even though some of them may be millionaires, they are very down-to-earth and they want to talk to you. They’re very interested in the future and they recognize that these students are their future.”

A highlight of the trip was when the students got to visit the Salinas Valley headquarters for Tanimura and Antle, an industry leader that farms over 30,000 acres and ships a full line of fresh produce throughout North America, Europe and Asia. During the session, the company showcased some of its new technologies.

DaGrosa said that was her favorite part of the trip because the students “really got to see what a big California farm looks like. I had never seen anything like that before. I’m from New Jersey and I’m used to cornfields, so it was really interesting to see that. It was beautiful.”

About PMA

The Produce Marketing Association is a trade organization representing companies from every segment of the global fresh produce and floral supply chain. PMA helps members grow by providing connections that expand business opportunities and increase sales and consumption.

PMA is the largest association for produce worldwide, representing the interests of nearly 3,000 companies.

UD was one of three universities chosen to participate in the PMA-New England Produce Council conference being held in Cape Cod, Massachusetts in September.

The PMA Foundation has as its mission to attract, develop and retain talent for the global produce and floral industry.

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Markland, Savin named Benton Graduate Student Award recipients

The University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) has announced that the winners of the 2015 William J. Benton Graduate Student Awards are Sarah Markland and Melissa Savin.

The awards were established in honor of William J. Benton, former CANR associate dean of research and professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences (ANFS).

Sarah Markland receives the 2015 Benton AwardSarah Markland

Markland recently received her doctorate in animal and food sciences, wrapping up a 10-year career at UD, where she also received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in food science.

Markland has been working with Kali Kniel, professor of animal and food sciences, to consider ways to keep the world’s food supply safe and sustainable as the world’s population continues to increase.

“By the year 2050, the world’s population is expected to double and we’re going to be expected to produce the same amount of food on the same amount of land but we’re going to be feeding twice the amount of people,” said Markland.

Markland’s primary project involved looking at ways that plants interact with human pathogens with the hope that through the study researchers will able to develop ways plants can fight off human and plant pathogens.

In another study, Markland looked at the use of bacteria that grows naturally in soil that can be used as a biocontrol agent to protect plants and boost immune response.

“They’re also known as plant probiotics,” she said.

Markland said that unlike when a plant is infected with a plant pathogen — during which it will show signs of stress, such as developing chlorosis lesions — a plant infected with a human pathogen does not show signs of stress because it isn’t really a host.

“There are some studies coming out that say if you inoculate salmonella on the plants, they will start to show signs of stress. As a result, there are questions as to whether human pathogens are also plant pathogens and whether organisms like salmonella and E. coli are using plants as a vector to get to us,” said Markland. “These are all different types of questions that we’re trying to answer.”

Markland said she wanted to thank Kniel and Dallas Hoover, professor of animal and food sciences, for all their help during her time at UD.

Now that she has her doctorate, Markland will start a job as a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Florida.

Markland said she chose to complete her degrees at UD, and in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences, because “doors kind of opened at the right time and I took opportunities. I think I was really fortunate and I’ve done really well here. We have one of the best programs in the country, which I think is also why I’ve done so well. We have great professors who are internationally known for the research that they do.”

Melissa Savin receives the 2015 Benton AwardMelissa Savin 

Savin is working on her master’s degree through the graduate program in water science and policy at UD. Her research in the interdisciplinary program has an emphasis on soil and plant science.

As a Kent Conservation District employee, Savin works as an environmental planner stationed in the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) Division of Watershed Stewardship: Drainage Program.

“I go out and look at different sites that need improved drainage or restoration. I help in the planning and permitting process to design viable solutions to meet the drainage concerns while protecting the environment. In my position I serve as a liaison between the drainage program and regulatory agencies to gain approval for the project plans.”

Her current job has direct ties to her studies at UD, as Savin said that her research required her to study tax ditches throughout Delaware to improve ditch management.

“I characterized ditch bottom sediments before and after ditch maintenance and simulated current management following maintenance in the lab to determine nutrient loss potential from these networks,” said Savin. “Minimizing nutrient losses from tax ditch networks is important for protecting water quality especially since many of our ditches ultimately drain to the Chesapeake or Delaware Inland Bays.”

Savin said that she was in ditch systems throughout her entire research project and “that’s how I became interested in the Drainage Program. Now I’m working with these guys to address drainage concerns and I hope to apply my knowledge to make the solutions even better.”

Savin said that she wanted to thank Amy Shober, associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, who she credits with guiding her and conducting interesting research that helped her land in her current career.

Savin said that receiving the award was “pretty awesome. I feel like my hard work really paid off. As a graduate student, you’re working so hard and sometimes you don’t feel like it amounts to anything besides your thesis but to actually be awarded is an honor. I feel like I’m really making a difference.”

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD researcher finds potential cause of hollow heart disorder in watermelons

An examble of hollow heart disorder in watermelons.
An examble of hollow heart disorder in watermelons.

Hollow heart disorder in watermelons affects growers throughout the United States and threatens the marketability of the fruit, which can lead to monetary losses.

Trying to find a cause and possible solution for the disorder, the University of Delaware’s Gordon Johnson performed a 2014 progressive pollinizer spacing study that showed that increasing the distance from a pollen source increased the incidence of hollow heart and reduced flesh density.

Johnson, a Cooperative Extension fruit and vegetables specialist and an assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences (PLSC), was assisted in the research by Donald Seifrit, a graduate student in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

A problem with hollow heart disorder is that it is difficult to predict when it will occur, which is frustrating for growers. “It’s not like a disease where you have a fungus or a bacteria or a nematode in the area,” Johnson explained. “It is something that occurs when it occurs, and doesn’t occur when it doesn’t occur.”

Because growers are unable to treat hollow heart through a pesticide or fertilizer application, they lack a defense to protect their crop.

Pollination study

Graduate student Donald Seifrit and Gordon Johnson.
Graduate student Donald Seifrit and Gordon Johnson.

Looking for a solution, Johnson turned to discussions by watermelon researchers that the disorder could be linked to pollination.

In 2010, he conducted a study in which he created situations to limit the pollen available to watermelons to quantify if that would have an effect.

“Basically, I designed a study where watermelons would be a longer or shorter distance from a pollen source,” said Johnson.

Johnson conducted the study on seedless watermelons – although hollow heart also occurs in seeded watermelons – because the bulk of the watermelon industry grows seedless varieties.

The production of seedless watermelons is a bit of a complicated system because the watermelon produces a seedless fruit but requires a pollinizer plant, which is the seeded type. Generally growers plant in a one-to-three ratio, with one seeded watermelon that produces viable pollen for every three seedless watermelons that do not produce viable pollen.

“You have to get the pollen transferred from the pollinizer to the seedless watermelon for fruit set,” Johnson said. “I set up some experiments to put seeded types at varying distances from the seedless, and I found that when you got further from a pollen source (wider ratio of pollinizer to seedless), you got more hollow heart.”

After the initial study, Johnson started repeating the experiments, continuing to put the pollen sources at varying distances or ratios. “Each time I would find that when I got further away (wider ratio), I would have a higher incidence of hollow heart,” he said.

Johnson also found that the flesh density of a watermelon variety plays a role in how it is affected by hollow heart. “When we looked at the more dense varieties versus the less dense varieties, the less dense varieties had more hollow heart, particularly when you moved away from a pollen source,” said Johnson.

To learn more about how density plays a role in watermelons affected by hollow heart, Johnson is looking at the initial number of cells that are being produced in the plant.

A slice of watermelon that has hollow heart disorder.
A slice of watermelon that has hollow heart disorder.

Johnson said that timing and weather conditions also have an impact on watermelons affected by hollow heart.

“It occurs in poor weather conditions, and oftentimes in the early watermelons,” he said. “That’s because we’re more likely to have cold nights or stormy conditions, particularly cold nights, where those early flowers are the most affected.”

Although it is rare to find hollow heart later in the year because growers generally have enough pollen being produced, Johnson said that if growers lose some pollinizers, or if the pollen producing watermelons don’t get planted, problems could still occur.

Industry buy-in

The relationship between hollow heart disorder and the amount of pollen that’s available has been accepted by the industry and Johnson is now able to make recommendations to growers about what factors might favor the disorder.

He points to three factors that could impact the frequency of hollow heart.

• The first is that the grower may not be getting enough pollen produced in the male flowers on the pollinizer plants.

• The second is the transfer of the pollen, which has to be moved from the ,  plants to the seedless plants by bees, may not be occurring at a high enough level.

• The third concerns whether the pollen being produced is actually viable.

“When I talk to growers, I address each one of those areas – the pollen production, the pollen viability and the pollen transfer – and tell them what they can do as far as management in each of those areas,” said Johnson, who has spoken in Florida, Georgia, Indiana, and Delmarva, the nation’s major Eastern watermelon growing regions.

“I’ve spoken at conferences and to growers and I even had a colleague who was able to repeat some of what I was doing last year. That’s always the telltale sign, when someone is repeating the study and getting similar results,” he said.

The presentations have reached more than 400 watermelon growers representing over 20,000 acres, and the recommendations have been well-received with over 91 percent of growers surveyed in seven states indicating that they would change one or more growing practices due to the research and recommendations presented.

Johnson said that one of the most interesting aspects of the study is that this isn’t his main research focus but more of a side project.

“It just goes to show that in all of the things that you do, you have got to be very observant and cannot be afraid to do side projects because oftentimes those projects are the things that become very important,” said Johnson. “I’ve talked to colleagues in the college and they always have a lot of different things going on, even if they’re not funded by grants. They’re trying different things because you never know where discovery is going to come from.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos courtesy of Gordon Johnson and by Jackie Arpie

Eight UD students selected to participate in Extension Scholars program

2015 UD Extension Scholars announcedEight University of Delaware students began their first day as 2015 Extension Scholars on June 8, marking the start of a 10-week summer experience working with Cooperative Extension research and program outreach in communities throughout the state.

Now in its 11th year, the Extension Scholars program offers UD students a unique, hands-on experiential learning environment under the guidance of Extension agents or specialists.

During this summer internship, students will follow Cooperative Extension’s service learning model, implemented through one of Extension’s four program areas: 4-H youth development, family and consumer sciences, lawn and garden, and agriculture and natural resources.

Michelle Rodgers, associate dean and director of UD Cooperative Extension, welcomed the scholars at their first-day orientation and explained how their new role in the Cooperative Extension Service — a 101-year-old system — remains connected today in every state through land grant universities, such as UD, Delaware State University, Cornell University, Rutgers University and Pennsylvania State University.

“I started my career doing something just like this,” Rodgers said, noting that most Cooperative Extension locations throughout the country offer a similar type of summer intern program.

The 2015 University of Delaware Extension Scholars are:

Jackie Arpie: A rising junior in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), Arpie will work with her mentor, Michele Walfred, communications specialist based at the Carvel Research and Education Center in Georgetown. Arpie will concentrate on Extension communications and create video and social media content, and integrate Delaware efforts with the national affiliate eXtension.org. Arpie will focus on Extension efforts statewide, including coverage of her fellow scholars.

Jacqueline Bavaro: A rising senior in the College of Health Sciences (CHS), Bavaro will work with New Castle County’s Expanded Food Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) and with 4-H as it implements its summer nutrition programs. She will mentor teen health ambassadors and provide overall nutrition education to young people. Bavaro will work with Sue Snider, professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences (ANFS), and Kathleen Splane, family and consumer science agent in Kent County. Bavaro’s internship is funded by the ConAgra Food Smart Families grant.

Rebecca Carroll: A rising senior in CANR with a double major in ecology and biology, Carroll will with work with Gordon Johnson, extension specialist, on climate hub research projects involving Delaware crops and climate change. Carroll plans to compile climate resources for farmers and will organize a climate change field day this summer.

Andrea Davis: A rising junior in CHS, Davis is a health behavior science major with a minor in biology. Davis will partner with Mallory Vogl, New Castle County 4-H agent, and will work with 4-H summer day camps, oversee 4-H teen member volunteer counselors, and conduct county outreach programs at the Delaware State Fair.

Megan O’Day: O’Day is a dietetics major and rising junior in CHS. This summer O’Day will work with both Kent and Sussex EFNEP and 4-H summer nutrition programs, as well as mentor teen health and conduct overall nutrition education for young people. O’Day will work jointly with Snider and Splane under the Food Smart Families grant.

Hunter Murray: A rising senior in CANR, Murray is majoring in food and agribusiness. Murray will be based in Kent County and will work with Susan Garey, Extension livestock agent, on a variety of initiatives including 4-H youth development and agriculture program areas and events at the Delaware State Fair.

Madeleine Rouviere: A rising senior majoring in nutrition and dietetics with a minor in psychology in CHS, Rouviere is slated to work with New Castle County’s EFNEP and 4-H staff with summer nutrition programs, mentor teen health ambassadors, and oversee nutrition education of young people. Rouviere will work with mentors Snider and Splane. Her internship is made possible through the Food Smart Families ConAgra grant.

Kathryn Russel: A rising junior in CHS, Russel is majoring in dietetics with minors in Spanish and journalism. Russel will be working with Snider and Splane on nutrition communications in both traditional and social media venues. One of the projects Russel will be working on is developing short nutrition, food safety and food buying text messages for a special project aimed at EFNEP clientele.

The Extension Scholars program began in 2004 under the leadership of Rodgers’ predecessor, Jan Seitz. The program is funded through endowments, private gifts and Extension program cost-share contributions. Increasingly, scholars are funded through grants, such as ConAgra’s Food Smart Families grant.

The program initially began with an opportunity for three scholars. Rodgers noted that without the gracious gifts of private donors and endowments, the Extension Scholars program would not have expanded to its present capacity. “People who have observed us and what we do have said, ‘This really matters,’” Rodgers said.

In addition to the generous gifts, Rodgers said that this year at least three positions have been funded by ConAgra.

Each Extension Scholar will work a 40-hour week and earn a stipend of $3,770. In addition, scholars may elect to earn three course credits from CANR, supervised by Rodgers as faculty adviser.

As a capstone to the end of their internship in mid-August, the Extension Scholars will participate in the University’s Undergraduate Research and Service Celebratory Symposium.

The symposium provides scholars an opportunity to meet other summer interns and network across UD’s broad student and faculty community. Extension Scholars present their research or creative work through their choice of a 20-minute presentation or through the Scholars Poster Session. View the 2014 symposium photos.

“It’s wonderful to see the Extension Scholar program expand and be supported on so many levels,” Rodgers said. “These young scholars are enthusiastic and ready to do the good work of Extension.”

For updates on the Extension Scholars throughout the summer, follow UD Extension on Twitter @UDExtension and on Facebook.

Article and photo by Michele Walfred

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Microbe mobilizes ‘iron shield’ to block arsenic uptake in rice

Harsh Bais (second in from right) (Associate Professor of Plant and Soil Sciences), is the Senior Author for research on rice plants. He is working with co-authors Janine Sherrier (left) (Professor of Plant & Soil Sciences) and Angelia Seyfferth (right) (Assistant Professor of Plant & Soil Sciences), and first author Venkatachalam Lakshmanan (second in from left)(Post-Doctoral Researcher)University of Delaware researchers have discovered a soil microbe that mobilizes an “iron shield” to block the uptake of toxic arsenic in rice.

Arsenic occurs naturally in rocks and soils, air and water, plants and animals. It’s used in a variety of industrial products and practices, from wood preservatives, pesticides and fertilizers, to copper smelting. Chronic exposure to arsenic has been linked to cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

The UD finding gives hope that a natural, low-cost solution — a probiotic for rice plants — may be in sight to protect this global food source from accumulating harmful levels of one of the deadliest poisons on the planet. Rice currently is a staple in the diet of more than half the world’s population.

Harsh Bais, associate professor of plant and soil sciences, led the UD team that conducted the study, which is reported in the international journal Planta. The work was supported by the National Science Foundation. His co-authors include professors Angelia Seyfferth and Janine Sherrier and postdoctoral researchers Venkatachalam Lakshmanan, Gang Li and Deepak Shantharaj, all in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences.

The soil microbe the team identified is named “EA106” for UD alumna Emily Alff, who isolated the strain when she was a graduate student in Bais’ lab. The microbe was found among the roots of a North American variety of rice grown commercially in California. It belongs to a group of gram-negative, rod-shaped bacteria called the Pantoea, which form yellowish mucus-like colonies. 

Because rice is grown underwater — often in water contaminated with arsenic in such hot spots as Bangladesh, India and China — it takes in 10 times more arsenic than do other cereal grains, such as wheat and oats.

As rice plants absorb phosphate, a nutrient needed for growth, they also take up arsenic, which has a similar chemical structure.

“This particular microbe, EA106, is good at mobilizing iron, which competes with the arsenic, effectively blocking arsenic’s pathway,” Bais explains. “An iron plaque forms on the surface of the roots that does not allow arsenic to go up into the rice plant.”

The researchers conducted the study with hundreds of rice plants — some grown in soil, others grown hydroponically — in UD’s Fischer Greenhouse. Inoculations with EA106 improved the uptake of iron at the plant roots, while reducing the accumulation of toxic arsenic in the plant shoots.

While the results are promising, Bais says the next steps in the research will determine if a natural solution to this serious issue is at hand.

“We’re not all the way to the grain level yet. We are working on that now, to see if EA106 prevents arsenic accumulation in the grain. That is the ultimate test,” Bais says.

If the next phase of the research shows success, Bais says inexpensive technologies (think even a cement mixer) exist for coating rice seeds with beneficial bacteria.

He also sees an added plus — fortifying rice plants with iron would not only reduce arsenic, but also increase the grain’s iron content as a nutritional benefit.

“I grew up very near to a rice field in India, so I have a different interest in this problem,” Bais says. “Basically, these small farmers don’t have much to feed their families. They grow rice on small plots of land with soil and water contaminated with arsenic, a poison. The work we are doing is important for them, and to the global security of rice.”

In related research, Bais wants to assess the performance of plants inoculated with EA106 when they face multiple stresses, from both arsenic and from rice blast, a fungus that kills an estimated 30 percent of the world’s rice crop each year.

Bais’ group previously isolated a natural bacterium from rice paddy soil that blunts the rice blast fungus. His group is evaluating how a natural alliance between benign microbes and rice can strengthen the plant’s disease resistance.

Both plant threats face rice farmers near his parents’ home in India. Bais plans to start field tests there when he visits with family this summer.

“The whole world is waking up to biologicals,” Bais says. “It’s an exciting time for researchers in this area.”

Article by Tracey Bryant

Photo of researchers by Lindsay Yeager

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Fooks receives the 2015 George Herbert Ryden Dissertation Prize

Jacob Fooks receives the George Ryden Award for outstanding dissertationAlfred Lerner College of Business and Economics doctoral graduate Jacob Fooks has been awarded the 2015 George Herbert Ryden Prize in Social Sciences, presented annually by the University of Delaware’s Office of Graduate and Professional Education for the outstanding dissertation in the field.

Fooks, who received his doctorate in economics at Commencement on Saturday, May 30, is a postdoctoral researcher for UD’s Center for Experimental and Applied Economics (CEAE) in the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics (APEC).

Fooks, who also holds a master’s degree in agricultural and resource economics from UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, was presented the Ryden Prize during the doctoral hooding ceremony on Friday, May 29.

His dissertation, titled “Essays on Computational Methods in Land and Resource Economics,” included several essays on the theme of applying computational models from the natural sciences methods to several problems in economic valuation and regulation.

One of the essays looked specifically at sea level rise in coastal protective infrastructure and used complex surging wave dynamics and simulations and data on competitive behavior from research participants to see how better policies and subsidy mechanisms can be developed to minimize damage.

Fooks said the study was set up to be fairly generic so that it could be applied to different areas threatened by sea level rise.

“It looked specifically at how regulators can subsidize investment decisions that decreases damage, sea walls or dune nourishment, given that individuals may have different, private values for these things,” said Fooks.

Of receiving the award, Fooks said, “It was unexpected and I’m very honored. It’s a little surreal but very exciting.”

Fooks said that he had many people to thank and that the award was “as much a reflection of the lab and the team here and all the support that I’ve gotten from them. My advisers, Kent Messer and Michael Arnold, especially have been incredibly supportive, as well as both the APEC department and the economics department which I have worked with. And most importantly my family who’ve shared the struggles of graduate school with me for the last five or six years.”

Messer, Unidel Howard Cosgrove Chair for the Environment in the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics, said of Fooks receiving the award, “Jacob’s work on a wide array of agricultural, natural resource and environmental economics topics is truly groundbreaking, as exemplified by his impressive publication record and his National Science Foundation dissertation award.”

Now that he has received his doctorate, Fooks will begin working at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service’s Conservation and Environment branch.

Fooks said he is excited to start work and that he will hold a research position with a heavy policy connection, focusing on “both academic publishing, as well as producing policy oriented briefs on what the implications are for federal environmental and resource policy.”

In the role, he will also be able to continue to work closely with the CEAE.

“I’m sure I’ll continue to work closely with this center, which is really great because it’s been such a supportive environment and place to work,” Fooks said. “We have worked very closely with the group that I’ll been working with in the past – actually I’ve been working with several of my future coworkers more or less since I started my master’s program in the APEC department.”

Article by Adam Thomas and Sunny Rosen

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD students help New Bolton Center with research on sows

Amy Cherico and Brittney Anderson complete swine internship at New Bolton CenterIt’s not every day students get to work with 600-pound pigs but that’s exactly what University of Delaware undergraduates Brittney Andersen and Amy Cherico found themselves doing during internships at the Penn Vet Swine Teaching and Research Center in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.

Andersen, who recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in pre-veterinary medicine and animal biosciences, and Cherico, a junior majoring in pre-veterinary medicine and animal biosciences, started the internship in January and worked with Kristina Horback, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Clinical Studies-New Bolton Center, helping her with a study on sows — adult female pigs — to see if the pigs could be trained to do simple tasks.

The primary project on which they worked involved pigs and colors.

“A white screen would come on and if the pigs touched it, they would receive food. They would eat it and if the white screen came on again and they touched it again, they would get more food,” said Cherico. “But then, if a different color came on and they hit it, they wouldn’t get any food.”

Cherico said the work was to see if the pigs could be trained “to know the difference between the two colors.”

The students helped Horback get the pigs into a room, distributed feed and staffed a computer that captured the research data on the sows.

On a related project, Cherico and Andersen analyzed the behavior of piglets. “We coded five-minute videos of piglets of varying ages and there are codes to use to note whether they walk around, sit down or make noises,” Cherico said. The research is designed to determine how pigs of different ages and breeds react to a new environment, and the students entered the information then sent Horback the results.

The UD students carpooled to the center and Andersen explained that after changing into their work clothes and putting on boots, they would “just get right into it and try to find which sow was where and get them into the room and then start the whole process.”

They said that finding the pigs was the hardest part, as it wasn’t easy to distinguish among the massive individual animals in a group of 50 or 60.

There were certain pigs that would see the girls and understand what was about to happen, Cherico said. “The ones that got used to the training knew whenever they saw us, they were going to get food, so they would kind of run down and get excited. They got to recognize us, which was cool.”

Andersen added that these pigs would be “right at the gate.”

There were others, however, who didn’t want to move and, as the students explained, if a 600-pound pig doesn’t want to move, it’s not going to move.

Cherico said she enjoyed all aspects of the internship. “It was fun. The best part for me was just the hands on aspect of it,” she said. “It was really cool to actually be able to handle the pigs and be a part of the research and see what was going on firsthand. That was pretty cool.”

Andersen added that the internship helped expand the knowledge they gained from taking the swine production class offered at UD and taught by Lesa Griffiths, professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences.

“We took the swine production class here in the fall and I had never worked with pigs before that so I was like, ‘I really like this.’ I found out about the internship opportunity and I just liked being able to continue to work with the sows and learn more about the facility,” said Andersen.

Both said the swine production class at UD was great and that they would recommend it to anyone.

“That’s why Delaware is awesome, all the animals are here,” said Cherico.

As for the next steps in their veterinary pursuits, Andersen said she has applied to graduate school for animal science and also has applied for government fellowships, one focused on infectious disease. Cherico said she will spend the summer completing her veterinary school applications.

Any UD students interested in an internship at the Penn Vet Swine Teaching and Research Center should contact Kristina Horback.

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD’s Kali Kniel receives awards for teaching, research and advising

Kali Kniel, Sarah Markland at convocationThe University of Delaware’s Kali Kniel has been awarded the 2015 International Association for Food Protection (IAFP) Elmer Marth Educator Award, which recognizes an outstanding educator who consistently serves their university in a teaching and research capacity for dedicated and exceptional contributions to the profession.

Kniel, professor of animal and food sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), is one of the youngest professors ever to win the award, which is the highest honor IAFP can bestow on a faculty member.

Kniel was nominated for the award by Manan Sharma, a colleague at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service and also an affiliated faculty member in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences.

Kniel’s doctoral adviser, Susan Sumner of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, received the award in 2000 and Kniel wrote a letter of support for her package then.

“It is truly an honor to receive this prestigious award,” Kniel said.

Kniel also was the 2015 recipient of the CANR Outstanding Teaching and Advising Award.

“I am truly humbled by the two awards I have received for teaching, which is a huge passion of mine,” said Kniel. “It’s overwhelming and such an honor because we have such an amazing group of educators and professors in the college, people that I have learned a great deal from.”

Sarah Markland, who recently received her doctorate from the Department of Animal and Food Sciences, was the 2015 recipient of the William J. Benton Graduate Student Award and had Kniel as an adviser and a teacher said she is not surprised by the honors presented, saying, “Dr. Kniel is the type of professor whose enthusiasm is so contagious that it enables her students to feel inspired and empowered. She genuinely wants all of her students to excel and tries to help guide each of her advisees down the career path for which they are most passionate about.”

Markland said Kniel has been her mentor at UD since 2007 and “it is because of her I found something I am extremely passionate about as a food safety researcher. I would have never expected in a million years that I would have developed into the scientist I am today without her constant support and encouragement. I admire her as an educator, a mentor, a researcher and as a person, and I feel extremely fortunate to be able to study under her mentorship. I hope that I am someday able to become as successful she has become in her career as a food safety educator.”

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Sharon Webb receives UD College of Agriculture and Natural Resources honor

Jack Webb, Barbara Stephens, Sarah Webb, Sharon Webb, Mark Isaacs. Photo by Pete StephensSharon Webb, an administrative assistant at the Elbert N & Ann V. Carvel Research and Education Center in Georgetown, was honored with the inaugural 2015 Superior Support Accomplishment Award presented by the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the college’s Convocation ceremony held in Newark on Friday, May 29.

The award, which will be presented by the college every other year, recognizes professional excellence and superior dedication by a university staff member serving in an administrative role. Webb received a $2,000 monetary award with the honor.

“I have worked for our college for over 28 years and I must say Sharon Webb stands out as one of the most organized, dedicated, productive and professional employees I have had the privilege of working with,” wrote Mark Isaacs, director of the Carvel Center.

With 14 years of service to UD, Isaacs shared in his nomination letter that Webb is known as “Wonder Woman” for her exceptional work ethic, leadership, and everyday passion for her job, her colleagues and the university.

As a senior administrative assistant, Webb’s responsibilities include overseeing the Carvel Center’s financial records, reports, budgets, payroll, audits, mileage requests, grant management and the supervision of the Center’s administrative support staff.

In pages of supporting documentation, colleagues were effusive in their praise for Webb as an innovator, adaptable to change, and always cheerful. Often facing a hard deadline, her meticulous attention to detail was noted, along with a cheerful countenance that never waivers.

“Her car is always one of the first in the parking lot every day and it is also one of the last to leave,” wrote one co-worker.

Prior to her career with the university, Webb worked for the Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc. which shared office space at the Center’s prior location. Webb joined UD in April, 2001.

In her tenure with the college, Webb developed a database to organize Carvel’s broad clientele. She organizes employee development, assists at all levels of the Center’s working research farm, and is often the first staff member to test drive new protocols, policies and procedures that are implemented from main campus. Noting her ability to multi-task, one colleague wrote, “With Sharon, it all seems to just flow.”

“Sharon is a role model for her colleagues as she demonstrates her eagerness to develop professionally—and she supports them in their educational endeavors,” said co-worker Barbara Stephens. “Sharon is one of those rare individuals that leads by example.”

Webb and her husband Jack reside in Delmar. They have three grown children Damien, Jack and Sarah and two grandchildren, Autumn and Finn.

Article by Michele Walfred

Photo by Pete Stephens

Longwood Graduate Fellows present findings on threatened plants to tree care

Longed Graduate Fellows present findings on threatened plants to tree careMillions of people visit public gardens each year. As they linger in the luscious landscapes, stress levels power down and new information may take root — on chemical-free pest control, perhaps, or the ID of that perfect perennial to jazz up a faded flower bed, or the role public gardens are playing in saving plants headed for extinction.

Botanic gardens and the people who love them have a major ally in the master’s degree program in public horticulture offered by the University of Delaware in partnership with Longwood Gardens.

The program, the oldest of only three offered in the U.S., produces leaders of botanic gardens around the world. As part of their academic training, which is fully funded by the program, each Longwood Fellow explores a research topic important to keeping these green spaces growing.

“Their research has to be applicable to our industry — we need it,” says Brian Trader, interim director of the graduate program. Trader is based at Longwood Gardens, in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. Its four-acre conservatory and over 1,000 acres of outdoor gardens attract more than a million visitors annually.

The cohort of six Longwood Fellows graduating this spring presented their research to the public on May 29 in the Longwood auditorium.

Sarah Helm Wallace used Todsen’s pennyroyal, a rare mint plant that grows on the mountain slopes of New Mexico, as a springboard into her discussion of “exceptional, threatened species” — plants that are dwindling in number and produce only a few seeds or no seeds at all.

Although not much is known about the role of Todsen’s pennyroyal in the ecosystem, researchers do know the ecosystem in which it lives is complex, supporting bighorn sheep to hummingbirds, Wallace pointed out.

“It isn’t ideal to lose a species,” she said. “Shouldn’t we try our hardest to keep it around?”

Protecting endangered plants increasingly requires strategies for growing them in plant conservatories and using tissue culture and cryopreservation techniques to be able to store and propagate them later on, Wallace said. As part of a world plant diversity safety net, the United Nations Global Strategy for Plant Conservation has set the goal of ensuring that 75 percent of the world’s threatened plants are maintained in such collections by 2020.

Wallace surveyed more than 3,000 conservation experts to begin developing a catalog of exceptional, threatened plants that are native to the U.S. and Canada, along with the experts working to preserve each species. Some 289 plants have been identified so far for a future database, which she hopes to expand to a global list.

Building on Wallace’s presentation, Gary Shanks captured the audience’s attention with a grim statistic from the International Union for Conservation of Nature. “Over 10,000 plant species are threatened with extinction, which is quite scary,” he said.

According to Shanks, more than 100 plant species are believed to have gone extinct since the turn of this century, and several species now rely entirely on human cultivation for their survival.

In a survey of more than 1,300 horticultural institutions around the globe, he found that over half the respondents are working to re-introduce plants with low genetic diversity.

Some successes have been achieved. Although Erica verticillata, a hardy shrub with pink tube-shaped flowers, was believed to be gone forever from Shanks’ native South Africa during the first half of the 20th century, a few specimens were discovered in the 1980s in parks in South Africa and botanic gardens in Europe. The plant has since been re-introduced back into the wild at a nature reserve in Cape Town.

The American chestnut tree, which has been the focus of research and restoration in the U.S., could serve as a flagship for the preservation of other species, Shanks said. Several disease resistance genes — from wheat and from the Chinese chestnut — currently are being studied to enhance the American chestnut’s ability to defend itself from blight.

Shanks traveled more than 7,500 miles from Cape Town to participate in the Longwood Graduate Program, which was highly recommended by Martin Smit, a program alumnus. Smit is curator of Stellenbosch University Botanical Garden in South Africa.

A closer look at public garden operations

Other Longwood Fellows focused on public garden operations ranging from visitor education to plant sales.

Felicia Chua, from Singapore, surveyed visitors to Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh to find out what interpretive approaches — from brochures, displays and self-guided tours to social media and QR codes — are most effective in motivating the public to learn more about sustainability.

Her survey, which she says other gardens may adapt, is in the appendix to her thesis, which will be available from the University of Delaware Library in the future. Chua will return to Singapore to channel her new knowledge into the Gardens by the Bay, which she helped to create.

Bryan Thompson-Nowak explored how three representative sites – including a college campus, native woodland garden and research collection – handle tree care, a typically expensive task. Through case studies at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the New England Wildflower Society Garden in Framingham, Massachusetts, and Montgomery Botanical Center in Coral Gables, Florida, he illustrated how mutually beneficial partnerships between public gardens and arborists/commercial tree care companies can be developed. He is now the assistant director of education and outreach at Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania.

A self-professed “late bloomer,” Sarah Leach Smith, from Durham, North Carolina, worked in publishing before pursuing her passion for horticulture. She found that commercial growers are slowly phasing out trial gardens. She recommended that public gardens form partnerships with local nurseries and independent garden centers to develop trial gardens and to boost consumer awareness of what these gardens show: what will grow well in consumers’ own backyards.

Kevin Philip Williams, a native of upstate New York, took a closer look at special event plant sales and found that although they may not always be major fundraisers for public gardens, these events can support other important goals such as increasing memberships. Giving staff greater ownership of event planning, expanding volunteer support, and pursuing sponsorships for food to shopping carts can make plant sales more manageable, and they can be “weatherproofed” by holding them indoors, he said.

Video of the fellows’ presentations is available here. The next cohort of Longwood Fellows will begin their studies in July. For more information about the program, visit the website.

Article by Tracey Bryant

Image courtesy of Longwood Graduate Program

UD graduate student uses leeches to measure mammal biodiversity

Sarah Weiskopf studied leeches to look at mammal biodiversity in SumatraIn order to get a better grasp on the biodiversity of mammals in Sumatra, University of Delaware graduate student Sarah Weiskopf spent two weeks collecting leeches in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park and conducting genetic analyses of their blood meals.

Weiskopf, a master’s degree student in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said the study came about when Kyle McCarthy, assistant professor of wildlife ecology and her adviser, came across a recent paper that used leeches to extract mammal DNA in a study in Vietnam.

For this project, Weiskopf collected 200 samples from two field sites and said that leeches could be an effective new method to gauge the total biodiversity of an area.

“Right now, tropical mammal surveys are typically done with camera traps and they don’t get all the species, especially arboreal species — ones that live in the trees — or ones that might be too small to trigger them,” said Weiskopf, who worked with Roswitha Muntiyarso, a graduate student from Universitas Indonesia, on the project.

Both of the study sites Weiskopf used had camera trap data gathered in a previous study, which will allow her to compare the results of the leech data with the camera data.

“The camera trap data has been analyzed already so we do have an idea of what’s there and we want to see if the leeches show the same results, or if they collect even more or different species than we saw on the cameras,” said Weiskopf.

Weiskopf explained that at one site the researchers collected leeches from the same locations that the cameras were placed and at the other site they used random sampling to decide where to collect the leeches.

When it came to gathering the leeches, Weiskopf said that they were pretty easy to find as they were “pretty much all over. We collected most of them from the ground, so we would look down and just see them crawling.”

As for any reservations about working with leeches, Weiskopf said she got used to them. “I did get a few leech bites, and they’re not the most pleasant, but I think it will be really cool if it works. Since leeches are so easy to collect, it will be a more convenient method for sampling biodiversity.”

Weiskopf said she will use an extraction kit to get the DNA from the leeches to sequence and analyze.

She also said that she had a great time in Indonesia.

“It was really beautiful and different from anywhere I’ve been before. The families I stayed with were very welcoming. It was great way to experience Indonesian culture and I’m glad I had the chance to go,” said Weiskopf.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos courtesy of Sarah Weiskopf

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Delaney receives Excellence in Undergraduate Academic Advising Award

Group photo of the spring 2015 recipients of the excellence in undergraduate academic advising award recipients Laura Eisenman, Thomas Kaminski, Deborah Delaney, and Cynthia Diefenbeck. - (Evan Krape / University of Delaware)

Eight members of the University of Delaware faculty have been recognized for noteworthy performance in teaching and advising, and three graduate students have received awards for excellence in teaching.

The Excellence in Teaching and Excellence in Academic Undergraduate Advising awards were presented at the May 4 meeting of the Faculty Senate.

Based primarily on nominations from current and past students, faculty excellence awards recognize those professors whose courses are viewed as being thought-provoking, intellectually demanding, related to other fields and touching on contemporary issues and student experiences.

Awardees receive $5,000, have their portraits hung in the Morris Library for five years and have bricks inscribed with their names installed in Mentors’ Circle.

This year’s Excellence in Teaching Awards were presented to:

  • Ralph Begleiter, Edward F. and Elizabeth Goodman Rosenberg Professor of Communication at UD and the founding director of the Center for Political Communication, in the College of Arts and Sciences;
  • Guido Geerts, professor of accounting and management information systems and Ernst and Young Faculty Scholar, in the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics;
  • Anthony Middlebrooks, associate professor in the Organizational and Community Leadership Program in the School of Public Policy and Administration, in the College of Arts and Sciences; and
  • Margaret Stetz, Mae and Robert Carter Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and professor of humanities, in the College of Arts and Sciences.

UD’s Excellence in Undergraduate Academic Advising Award is based on student nominations. Awardees receive $2,500 and also are honored with bricks inscribed in Mentors’ Circle.

This year’s honorees are:

  • Laura Eisenman, associate professor in the School of Education and adviser for the interdisciplinary disabilities studies minor, in the College of Education and Human Development;
  • Thomas Kaminski, professor of kinesiology and applied physiology, and director of undergraduate athletic training, in the College of Health Sciences;
  • Deborah Delaney, assistant professor of entomology and wildlife ecology, in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources; and
  • Cynthia Diefenbeck, assistant professor in the School of Nursing in the College of Health Sciences.

Of her role as an adviser, Delaney said, “Being an adviser is the most challenging part of my job at UD, and it requires me to get to know each of my students and understand how I can mentor them. Each student is so different and blessed with different gifts. Being a mentor also is the most rewarding part of my job, and watching a student grow and become more confident is the best. Being able to be a supportive and encouraging voice to the future generations in the field of entomology is an honor. Insects are just so cool!”

To read about the other award winners, check out the full article on UDaily.

UD students learn art of fermenting in class, on Iron Hill Brewery tour

UD fermentations class tours Iron Hill  Brewery and RestaurantAn interdisciplinary class at the University of Delaware took a trip to Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant in Newark on April 30 to learn about the restaurant’s brewing process and to come up with recipes for three distinct offerings as part of the “Fermentations: Brewing and Beyond” class.

The class is taught by Nicole Donofrio, associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and Dallas Hoover, professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences.

While at Iron Hill, the students were led by Justin Sproul, head brewer, as they toured the facilities and learned about the brewing process.

Prior to the event, Donofrio said, “The students will have already learned a little bit about the brewing process from me, as we had three lectures in class, but then they will get to see it in action, which will be great.”

The students were divided into groups so that while one group toured the brewery, the other groups worked in the back room on an activity in which they learned about beer ingredients and raw materials — such as malts, grains and bittering versus flavoring hops — and then had to come up with a recipe for one of three varieties of beer.

The groups then rotated so that everyone who participated got to tour the brewery.

Sproul said that they were brewing a batch of their Ore House India Pale Ale (IPA), the house IPA at Iron Hill, so the students got to actually see a real batch of beer being created. “We brought them up and showed them some stuff moving around and some things going on in there so they could see some portion of the production of a batch of beer,” said Sproul.

Sproul, who has been brewing for about 17 years, said that an average batch of beer produced at Iron Hill is about 310 gallons.

He also said that he thinks that UD offering a class on the fermenting process and brewing is “really cool. More and more schools are getting involved. Years ago, there weren’t many places that you could get that type of education on brewing but slowly but surely, we’re starting to see more and more universities pick up some classes that are brewery related,” said Sproul.

Fermentations class

During the early part of the semester, students in the class learn all about fermented products such as cheese and dairy products, vinegar, kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles, olives, soda crackers and soy sauce.

In addition to the brewery tour, the class also held a cheese tasting, funded by Blake Meyers, chair of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences and the Edward F. and Elizabeth Goodman Rosenberg Professor of Plant and Soil Sciences. They also participated in a soy sauce tasting and sampled malts and hops.

Chris Kidder, a senior majoring in plant science, said he signed up for the class because he is getting back into home brewing and also wanted to learn about fermented products.

Kidder said it was hard to pick his favorite part of the class. “That’s hard to say because you learn so much about everything that’s fermented, from vinegar to soy to meats to teas to coffee, you name it. It’s more of a broadening type of class.”

Alaina Johnson, a senior food science major who recently got into home brewing, said she signed up for the class to broaden her knowledge about the brewing and fermenting process.

Johnson said that while learning about the beer brewing aspect was her favorite part, she also enjoyed studying the science behind the fermentation process.

“There’s a lot of science behind the beer and wine you drink. The first day of class, people were asking, ‘What is fermentation? What is yeast?’ I thought, ‘You’re going to be in over your head,’ because the class is not just about drinking beer. There is a lot of the science behind it,” Johnson said. “We learned all about the biological pathways and how yeast metabolize sugars, leaving behind ethanol and carbon dioxide as waste products. Yeast are complex organisms and it is important to understand this science before you start trying to brew your own beer.”

Samantha Gartley, a senior food science major, said she enjoyed the class because “our entire major is about the process of taking raw ingredients and turning them into foods, so it is nice to have a class that expands that to the rest of the UD community.”

Fermenting future

Donofrio said that brewing and fermentation, just like a process such as making ice cream, is based in science. “Regardless of how you feel about beer, it is a biological and scientific process. It’s also a little bit of an art form getting it right. There’s a lot that goes into it and a lot of thought behind it. It’s not for the purpose of swilling beer. That is not at all where we’re going with this,” said Donofrio.

Donofrio said that because there is the capability for UD to make products like ice cream, there is no reason not to produce fermented products such as cheese and beer, as well.

Hoover echoed these sentiments, saying that while it’s easy enough to brew beer and make cheese as a hobby, they are hoping to expand the class to have a laboratory element in which they can teach how to produce fermented products so they have commercial relevance. Hoover also pointed out that there are universities such as Oregon State that offer a fermentation science program.

“Brewing is a job – it’s not just consumption, it is a profession,” said Hoover. “Beer is a product and food science majors produce it, so we want to be able to handle that if it’s worthwhile, and it definitely seems worthwhile.”

One thing that is for sure is that the creation of beer and fermented products — whether on the commercial scale or at home — isn’t going away in Delaware or any other place anytime soon.

“Home and craft brewing is a trend. In 2012, something like over 300 craft breweries popped up in this country, and there is still room to grow, believe it or not. There are a bunch of craft breweries in our state alone — Twin Lakes Brewing Co, 16 Mile Brewery, Iron Hill, Dogfish Head, Fordham and Dominion, just to name a very few,” said Donofrio.

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Lindsay Yeager

Tim Calotta/THE REVIEW

More on his plate: student starts and runs “Joost Wafel Co.”

Smells can soothe us and evoke memories. In Joost Elling’s case, a smell inspired him to start a business.

Freshman Elling was on a trip to the Netherlands to visit relatives and found himself drawn to the smell of stroopwafels in an open-air market. For the uninformed, a stroopwafel is a cookie made of two thin waffle-cookies joined together by caramel.

When Elling returned from the Netherlands, he decided to begin making stroopwafels of his own, as he could not find them for sale in the United States. Elling says he ordered a special stroopwafel iron from Europe and started working on a stroopwafel recipe at home, altering the recipe to suit the American palate.

BY
SENIOR REPORTER

Read full article on The Review >>

CANR employees craft pillowcases for Romanian orphanage

Michelle Rodgers (left), Donna Bailey (middle), and Alice Moore (right), made pillow cases to donate to an orphanage in RomaniaWhen Michelle Rodgers mentioned to Donna Bailey that her niece was going on a mission trip with the Children to Love organization and needed 500 pillowcases for an orphanage in Romania, she never imagined the robust support she would receive.

Individual quilters and quilt groups from throughout Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania quickly volunteered to chip in and create numerous pillowcases for the cause.

“It was neat for me to see one mention of one act of kindness get multiplied in multiple ways,” said Rodgers, associate dean for Cooperative Extension in the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR). “People picked that up and really went with that so I don’t know how many pillow cases we’ll end up with.”

More pillowcases will be created this weekend as Rodgers has an event planned at her church in Lancaster County on Saturday, May 16, from 9 a.m.-noon.

Those who attend the session will put together pillowcases in an assembly line fashion that Rodgers learned from Bailey’s Penn Ridge Quilters group.

“Because Donna’s group had done this assembly line style, they provided directions on the best way to do it, so I’m planning to use their best practices,” said Rodgers. “They were really willing to share how to set it up and what to have everyone doing so I don’t have to figure that all out.”

Bailey, who works in the administrative offices at CANR, said the Penn Ridge solicited fabric from local quilt shops and organized a sew night, making 35 pillowcases. Also, Bailey’s granddaughter, Abigail, raised money at her school and made four pillowcases.

CANR administrative office staff members — who have their own quilt group that includes Rodgers, Bailey, Alice Moore, Susan Davis and Katie Hutton, recently retired — also held a quilt night at which they had the Penn Ridge group over for dinner at Bailey’s home and sewed 11 additional pillowcases.

Moore said the assembly line set-up worked well because “it’s a way of incorporating people who don’t sew or have knowledge of sewing but have a variety of skill sets. There are some who are good at ironing and pressing and folding, and making sure that everything gets organized right. It was nice that they had opportunities for us and it was great to meet some of Donna’s friends and neighbors.”

In addition to the pillowcase-making events, Rodgers said that she never knows when she might find bags of pillowcases placed in her office. “There have been many a day when I’ve walked in and there’s been a bag from somewhere,” said Rodgers.

Rodgers said she has been asked the question, “Why don’t you just buy pillowcases for the children?” and her answer is that the point of the exercise is for the children to have something crafted especially for them.

“We could buy them and it would be cheaper but they’re not personalized and they’re not made out of special fabrics. The idea behind this is that each one is individually made in love for a child – it has been crafted for that child,” said Rodgers.

Bailey added that she once made a pillowcase for a child that was having surgery and as he recovered and healed “his head was on the pillow, he said to his mom, ‘I know somebody who loved me made this’ and I think that answers very well to those asking ‘Why do you do this?’ Because somebody who loves me made this, you know, there’s a healing balm in that.”

Moore echoed those sentiments, saying that the pillowcases were “made of love because you know that they are going to someone who really needs a hug and really needs care. It’s something that you can do to help in some small way but know that you’re going to make a lasting impression on that child.”

Rodgers said that in the event that the group gets more pillowcases donated than the desired 500, they would donate the rest to an orphanage in India.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Lindsay Yeager

UD students create app to help area’s Christmas tree farmers

UD students create app to help area Christmas Tree Farmers

An interdisciplinary team of students at the University of Delaware has developed a new app called PocketFarmer designed to help Christmas tree farmers in the region diagnose, identify and mark potentially diseased plants.

The PocketFarmer was developed through the Spin In program in UD’s Office of Economic Innovation and Partnerships (OEIP).

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 members and works side-by-side with entrepreneurs to provide solutions to the challenges that need to be overcome on the path to commercialization.

The idea for the app came about when Michelle Rodgers, associate dean for Cooperative Extension in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, asked agents to come up with app ideas that could benefit Extension clientele as part of an “App Challenge” contest that involved all 13 northeast states in the Extension system. As part of that challenge, the participants would also have to create a YouTube video to go along with their app.

Nancy Gregory, an Extension agent, had been working closely with Christmas tree farmers in Delaware in conjunction with Brian Kunkel, an Extension specialist. They had conducted workshops for the growers and collaborated with them through a three-year grant from the Delaware Department of Agriculture (DDA) to evaluate disease resistant cultivars of Christmas trees.

Christmas tree diseases

The main type of Christmas tree that is grown in the area is the Douglas fir, and Gregory said it can be afflicted by two main diseases – Rhabdocline needlecast and Swiss needlecast.

Both diseases cause premature needle loss, leading to thin foliage, which is especially problematic for Christmas tree growers who need fuller trees to appeal to customers.

Gregory said that to combat the Rhabdocline needlecast, growers have been interested in cultivars from the western United States that have sources of resistance to the fungal pathogen. Unfortunately, local growers have not found trees with growth habits and characteristics that they like.

“In the meantime, Swiss needlecast has come in and become even more problematic and it turns out that all those lines they were looking at that might be resistant to the Rhabdocline needlecast are susceptible to the Swiss needlecast. So that’s become an even bigger problem,” said Gregory.

The two needlecast diseases are especially prevalent on Douglas fir trees in the area because of the coastal climate and humid summers.

Gregory said that both diseases are easily controlled with the use of fungicide sprays but that timing is crucial, and that is where the PocketFarmer could be of a benefit to the growers.

“The control of these diseases usually requires three fungicide sprays, sometimes four in a season, and it’s very dependent on timing. You have to know when the spores are being produced, which is usually in May,” she said. “When those spores are released, they infect the new expanding needles so it’s very crucial when you get that first spray and then traditionally the growers will spray every two weeks after that.”

PocketFarmer features

The PocketFarmer app would help growers know when to spray and also help them keep track of the number of applications.

Michelle Lifavi, a junior majoring in communication and the communications specialist for the team, explained that the app is equipped with a seasonal calendar that will tell the growers how their trees should be progressing and what diseases to look for during particular times of the year.

“We have a GPS pinpointing feature so the trees can be pinpointed on the farm. If one tree has a certain feature on it, the farmer can write notes, can have a picture and can input coordinates so he can come back to it and know the exact location,” she said.

Another way in which the app could help the growers is in identifying and verifying the needlecast diseases early on.

“The growers need to recognize whether or not they have the fungal needlecast disease or whether they might have something else causing spots on the needles,” said Gregory. “There are look-alikes that it might be confused with, whether it’s a scale insect or small specks. There is a small speck called flyspeck, which is not a pathogen, it’s just kind of an opportunist that might grow there. There are a number of things that the growers could confuse.”

With the app, the growers would be able to take a picture of what is afflicting their trees and compare it against images of known pathogens.

“We have the ‘take a photo and diagnose page,’ which is quick and easy,” said Lifavi. “The growers implement all the symptoms that they have – such as where it is on the tree, what’s going on with it – and then the app filters through and picks the disease that they most likely have.”

Gregory explained that these features “could save them time and money because they’d know when that crucial first spray needs to go on and they would know for sure what pathogen they have, or if they have an insect instead of a pathogen – they would know what’s causing the problem.”

The PocketFarmer would also work hand in hand with Extension agents because while it would allow the growers to be more self-reliant, the group still stresses the need for Extension agents to confirm diseases.

“The idea is to give them picture clues and information, but always back it up with the recommendation to either contact your local county Extension office or send a sample in for an accurate diagnosis,” said Gregory.

Lifavi said the app would provide farmers the ability to take photographs of their potentially diseased trees and to share them directly with an Extension agent.

While the app is currently focused on just conifer trees in the area, the group named it the PocketFarmer with the hopes that they could expand it to other crops.

Nathan Smith, a plant science major who worked on the project, said, “The idea behind this app is to create a useful tool for farmers to be able to carry around with them in the field and help them diagnose problems that are occurring with their crop. In this case, it’s Christmas trees. PocketFarmer will give them recommendations on what to do. It’s like carrying a thesaurus with you but it’s faster and caters to the specific needs of the farmer.”

Learning experience

Andrew Seski, a sophomore finance major and the business analyst for the PocketFarmer team, said of the experience, “Throughout my time working in the Office of Economic Innovation and Partnerships (OEIP), I have not only gained a new appreciation for diversity in the workplace, but I have personally grown through experiencing other disciplines focused on accomplishing a common goal. OEIP has offered me both the autonomy to be innovative in my work, as well as offering me lifelong connections.”

Akuma Akuma-Ukpo, a computer engineering student, said he enjoyed the project management aspect of the app development. “The privilege to get exposure to real world project creation while collaborating with an interdisciplinary team with limited resources was a great way to usher us into our respective real world careers,” said Akuma-Ukpo.

Team members include Akuma-Ukpo; Lifavi; Smith; Seski; Jack Sherry, design/graphics; and Rebecca LaPlaca, arts and sciences.

The team is mentored by Reetaja Majumdar, a master’s student in business and economics, and works with Sarah Minnich and Cyndi McLaughlin, both from OEIP.

Anyone interested in learning more about the app can contact Lifavi or Seski for more information.

Click here to check out the video put together by the students and Lindsay Yeager, photographer for the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, which will be entered into the App challenge contest.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Lindsay Yeager

New forested wetland planted on UD’s Newark Farm

6th Wetland installed on the CANR campusThe University of Delaware chapter of Ducks Unlimited assisted the Landmark Science and Engineering firm in putting trees back in place and adding an array of native plants in a new wetland mitigation area on UD’s Newark Farm on April 10.

The wetland mitigation area was created last fall and Amy Nazdrowicz, who received her master’s degree from UD’s Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) and now works for Landmark as an environmental scientist, said that with late fall plantings it is not uncommon for the new trees to pop out of the ground as water freezes and thaws through the course of the winter.

That is especially true with the new wetland, the sixth on the UD Farm, which has a clay base.

“This wetland is holding a great deal of water. It’s not really infiltrating at all because the wetland has a clay layer,” Nazdrowicz said. “Sometimes we have to truck clay in to construct a wetland but for this one, the on-site soils were good.”

Mike Popovich, a research associate in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, said the problem with the clay base is that while it holds the water, it also expands and contracts as temperatures fluctuate.

“Over winter, we had some days where it was 40 degrees and then some days where it got down to 5 degrees, and it’s popping the trees right out of the ground,” he said.

Nazdrowicz said that the 275 trees and 175 shrubs planted in the wetland are all native species found in this region of Delaware, and that moving forward only native plants will be planted there.

“The native plants all have their own natural predators — things that eat them and things that use them for cover,” said Nazdrowicz.

While most of the wetland will be forested with native trees, Nazdrowicz explained that the site’s central basin will be emergent — an open canopied space dominated by herbaceous plants. In addition to re-planting the trees, the group will also plant 2,350 herbaceous plugs such as flowers, grasses and sedges.

“It’s really only the central basin that doesn’t have that many trees and shrubs. It has some shrubs in the deeper section but that’s where we’re going to plant a lot of these plugs,” said Nazdrowicz.

The actual planting of the exposed areas of soil with the plugs was done on April 12 with the help of UD students, as the group had to wait for the water in the wetland to recede before planting.

Ducks Unlimited helped install the 6th wetland on the CANR campusChris Williams, associate professor of entomology and wildlife ecology, director of the Waterfowl and Upland Gamebird Program and adviser of the Ducks Unlimited student chapter, said he was “excited about the new wetland restoration and happy the students could gain hands-on experience toward its restoration.”

Williams added that because the area will become a forested wetland habitat, “it increases the chances that we can install wood duck boxes in the future to promote these very colorful ducks.”

The trees that were planted in the wetland will eventually grow to be very large and it will become a forested wetland that will sit next to and complement UD’s Ecology Woods.

“This is in the conservation easement and it will stay like this forever. These trees will eventually reach maturity years from now and they’ll eventually be just as big as the adjacent trees in the Ecology Woods,” said Nazdrowicz. “Right now, this is only year one and we’ve found better success rates when we use smaller plant materials, so these are only very young trees and shrubs.”

The team that designed and constructed the wetland mitigation area — the plans for which began in February 2014 — included:

  • Nazdrowicz, whose responsibilities included wetland design, producing the wetland mitigation plan report, planting specifications, agency coordination, and plant installation and oversight. She also will oversee wetland monitoring.
  • Colm DeAscanis, president of CDA Engineering Inc. who graduated from UD with a bachelor of science degree in civil and environmental engineering in 1996, and who designed the wetland and the swale and did the construction stake-out.
  • Vince Dills, vice president of Merit Construction Engineers Inc. who graduated from UD with a bachelor of science degree in civil and environmental engineering, and who constructed the wetland and swale.
  • Will Twupack, environmental scientist at Landmark Science and Engineering who was at the wetland April 10 and whose responsibilities include siting of the wetland construction area, the soil investigation, coordination with UD staff, wetland design, construction oversight and plant installation.

The group members thanked CANR Dean Mark Rieger, Tom Sims, professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, Popovich and Scott Hopkins, UD Farm superintendent, for their help with the project.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Lindsay Yeager

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Crowds gather to view agriculture, natural resources exhibits at 40th Ag Day

Ag Day 2015The relative cold weather in the morning gave way to warmth and sunshine in the afternoon as an estimated 6,000 to 8,000 visitors flocked to the 40th Ag Day at the University of Delaware to see an array of agricultural and natural resource exhibits, enjoy great entertainment and find out the winner of the recipe contest.

Mark Rieger, dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), welcomed the crowd to Ag Day and explained how the event was started 40 years ago by David Frey, associate professor of plant and soil sciences, who Rieger said is “still on the faculty, still teaching great courses, and still a big part of Ag Day.”

The theme of this year’s Ag Day was “Farm to Table” and Rieger said that concept is “kind of a revolution today in agriculture — it’s really changing the food system.”

Rieger noted that CANR is part of that revolution, with students who work on the campus farm “growing kale and broccoli and lettuce, and things like that,” with most of the food going to the Food Bank of Delaware or restaurants in downtown Newark.

As a result, Rieger said, “We in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources are part of the local food movement, as are millions of people across the country, and that’s what we’re going to celebrate today with our theme Farm to Table.”

As part of that Farm to Table mission, the Ag Day planning committee arranged to have a special recipe contest.

The first place winner of the contest was Pamela Braun, whose recipe for a Luscious Spring Green Salad earned her gifts from the UDairy Creamery, honey from the campus apiary, a certificate for mixed vegetable baskets from UD Fresh to You and an additional barrel of fresh tomatoes.

Braun decided to donate all of her prize winnings to the Ronald McDonald House of Delaware, which had a booth in the Ag Day Community Tent.

The other winners were Karen Burkett’s Goulash, which came in second place, and Valerie Smirlock’s Crustless Quiche, which came in third place. Both received UDairy Creamery gifts and honey from the campus apiary, and Burkett also received a certificate for a mixed vegetable basket from UD Fresh to You.

Another popular aspect of Ag Day this year was the Center for Experimental and Applied Economics (CEAE) asking attendees to participate in three separate research studies. Those who took part were paid in cash for their participation and by the end of the day CEAE paid out around $6,000 to more than 500 participants.

Two projects investigated consumer preference for oysters with varied information regarding water pollution and nutrient levels in the water. The research team has also collected data from consumers at the 16 Mile Brewery in Georgetown, Delaware, Joe’s Famous Tavern in Wilmington and the Speakeasy at the Wright House in Newark. As a part of the oyster studies, research participants had the opportunity to purchase various oysters and have them prepared on the half shell, fried, or in a bag of ice to be brought home.

A third study was conducted on charitable giving as it related to issues of water infrastructure. Participants first earned money by completing a task on the computer, and then were asked if they would like to donate some of this money to either the American Water Works Association or the Conservation Fund. The study helped the researchers better understand how important water infrastructure is to individuals and how they would most like to protect it for future generations.

The Food Bank of Delaware truck was also on hand to collect donations from the community.

In addition, those gathered at the 40th Ag Day were able to take in over 90 exhibits and witness a variety of demonstrations, including a beehive, free-flight bird show and a tree-climbing exhibition. There also were live bands featuring UD faculty and professionals.

Always popular at Ag Day is the plant sale organized by the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens (UDBG) and ice cream from the UDairy Creamery. This year the creamery sold treats to around 3,000 patrons.

Those in attendance also had the option of taking a tour of the CANR farm. “I call it a farm tour but it’s much, much more than a farm,” Rieger said. “The name of the college is Agriculture and Natural Resources, and a lot of what we do has to do with keeping the soil from eroding, keeping the water pure and the air clean.”

Rieger noted that the 350-acre farm has croplands, pastures, wetlands, woodlands and streams, almost all of which fall within the city limits of Newark.

“The farm is much more than just a place where we raise animals and grow plants, it’s a place where we have environmental services going on,” said Rieger. “That’s what we do in CANR, a little bit of both — feed the world, protect the planet.

“That’s what our students go out into the world to do, and what’s great is that as they approach graduation, there are two jobs for every graduate that we can produce in the United States. Agriculture and natural resources careers are in some of the highest demand of anything in the country and all of those folks will have wonderful careers.

“They’ll probably have multiple job offers before they even leave here so if you’ve got a nephew, niece, son or daughter or grandson thinking about what they want to do when they go off to college, think about agriculture and natural resources.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Lindsay Yeager

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Lasher Lab makeover helps with poultry disease diagnostics and research, response

Sen. Tom Carper tours the Lasher LabThe newly renovated Lasher Laboratory avian diagnostic, disease and research facility was the focus as community members attended an open house held Friday, April 17, at the University of Delaware’s Elbert N. and Ann V. Carvel Research and Education Center in Georgetown, Delaware.

The renovations to the lab were completed courtesy of $4 million in funding from the Delaware General Assembly and will serve to help with avian research diagnosis and early detection surveillance of avian diseases that have the potential to devastate the state’s poultry industry.

“The Lasher Lab represents the front line of defense for diagnosing and controlling avian diseases and it services the state’s $3.2 billion poultry industry,” said Mark Rieger, dean of UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR). “Lasher will be the go to place if there is an outbreak of avian influenza. Thanks to the strong support supplied by the state of Delaware, the lab has been completely renovated and now provides state of the art diagnostics and surveillance services for the agricultural industry in Delaware.”

Rieger added that Lasher is the newest addition to CANR’s facilities and is part of a network that comes together across the three counties to meet agriculture and natural resources needs in the state.

“In addition to the diagnostic and surveillance services, Lasher provides our scientists in Newark with information on what is happening in the industry in real time,” Rieger said. “Without it we wouldn’t have a continuum between the basic ideas that are being researched in Newark and the practical, on the ground, real time problems that are occurring out in the industry, so it is incredibly important.”

U.S. Sen. Tom Carper called the facility renovations “a great investment” and noted that as the nation exports more chickens, keeping those chickens healthy is of the utmost importance.

“It used to be for every 100 chickens we raised in Delmarva, we exported zero to other countries. Today it’s 20 and it’s growing,” said Carper.

The senator added that it is important to invest in facilities like Lasher to ensure that chickens raised in the U.S. can continue to be exported.

Delaware Secretary of Agriculture Ed Kee — a CANR alumnus who noted that he worked in the Carvel facility for 26 years as a vegetable crop specialist and four years before that as a county agriculture agent — said the facility that houses the newly renovated Lasher Laboratory has served agriculture since the University acquired it in 1941.

“It has a wonderful history of serving agriculture not only in Sussex County but for the whole state,” said Kee.

Kee said that he and Gov. Jack Markell were thrilled that the state, through the legislature, made the $4 million commitment to ensure that Lasher is outfitted with the latest facilities and equipment to protect the Delaware poultry industry.

“In Delaware, we sell about 225 million chickens a year, and on the Delmarva Peninsula it’s well over 500 million,” Kee said. “Each one of those chickens has to be healthy and the surveillance and the research that’s going on here and at the Allen Lab (on the Newark campus) is ensuring that. The industry is important because, at the bottom line, it is about the farmers out there on the land making a living.”

Charles Riordan, deputy provost for research and scholarship, thanked the Lasher family, Kee and the state legislators for making the laboratory renovations possible. He said it was a team effort that allowed the University to move forward with the improvements to the facility.

Riordan said the facility is focused on learner-centered research and said that UD is committed — through the work of its students, faculty and staff — to having an impact in the region and the state.

“The focus really is on that,” he said. “Whether it be our scholarship in the lab next door, on the main campus, on the Lewes campus, whether it be through our education activities or our outreach activities, it’s all about taking the work at UD and having it out in the community.”

Riordan added that there is a two-way street in that the University is “not only informing the community with our work, but that the community is bringing their work, through partnerships, to UD.”

Jack Gelb, director of the avian biosciences center and professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences, said that as a land grant university, UD has a rich tradition of serving agriculture and poultry and he said that service has never been stronger.

“Through the renovation of Lasher Lab, we are positioned to be sustainable for the next 35 years. Our goal is clear, to continue and even strengthen the productive partnerships we’ve enjoyed,” said Gelb.

Gelb noted that what makes UD particularly unique is that “our laboratory system in Delaware is directly linked to the University whereas in many states, those diagnostic activities are often performed through the departments of agriculture.”

The unique structure provides strength in that “our scientists and our veterinarians can observe what’s going on in the field with any particular type of disease condition and reflect that very efficiently to researchers and others who can help develop mitigating ways of controlling disease through outreach and extension,” Gelb said, adding, “That is very powerful and has kept us directly connected to the industry.”

Mark Isaacs, director of the Carvel Center, closed the ceremony by thanking the Lasher family for their commitment to UD — a commitment that made the laboratory possible.

He also thanked Kee and legislators who attended, and singled out Tom Hudson, UD construction manager, and Brenda Sample, Lasher Lab coordinator, who made the renovations a reality.

Of Kee, Isaacs said, “His efforts were phenomenal in navigating and helping us do this. Ed, we can’t say enough about your continued support for the facility and for our campus and the college as well and our legislative body, members of the General Assembly and the county. I’ve been with UD for 29 years and you talk about a partnership — what a phenomenal partnership we have with our local legislative body. They truly care, they’re sincere in their mission in serving their constituents, and they really care about agriculture.”

Before leaving for the tour, Isaacs said that the participants were going to see “a lab that was designed by the troops that work in it. What you’re going to see is a dynamite, hands-on, lab staff driven facility that has taken us into the next millennium.”

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Rice paddies installed on CANR campus to aid arsenic research

Angelia Seyfferth is conducting arsenic in rice studies using rice paddies installed on UD's campusTwelve paddies have been created at the University of Delaware’s new Rice Investigation, Communication and Education (RICE) Facility, an outdoor research education laboratory on the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) campus, to assist scientist Angelia Seyfferth as she studies arsenic in rice.

The paddies were installed through a prestigious five-year $465,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development Award received by Seyfferth, who is an assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences. It was the first such award given to a CANR professor.

The new laboratory will allow for research that more closely resembles field conditions, allowing researchers to look at plants outdoors rather than solely in an indoor laboratory setting.

“Typically when we do experiments for plant growth, we are growing a few plants per pot and we can have multiple pots for multiple replicates to answer some scientific questions,” said Seyfferth. “But often what we do in the laboratory doesn’t translate to what is happening in the field because there are other factors that the plants are experiencing.”

Seyfferth said that while the rice paddies will still be controlled experiments, they will more closely approach field conditions.

“Rather than having three plants in a pot that are all growing together, we can have 50 plants in a plot of land, which is going to more closely resemble a rice paddy field. So this is what I like to call a rice mesocosm. The pot is almost like a microcosm and this is the mesocosm,” said Seyfferth.

Paddy construction

The rice paddies were installed by Jeta Excavation and Seyfferth also had design assistance from Jules Bruck, associate professor of landscape design, and Carmine Balascio, associate professor of plant and soil sciences.

Seyfferth said that Bruck and Balascio helped in terms of thinking about the logistical pieces of the project, such as what type of lining material to use in the paddies, how best to protect that liner and how to secure it.

“It went from this idea to a reality after talking with all these people who have a lot of experience with building and designing,” said Seyfferth.

The liners were used in the paddies to help prevent the water from infiltrating through the soil.

“We will be able to use less water and when we flood the paddies, arsenic naturally present in the soil will be mobilized and we don’t want it to go anywhere,” said Seyfferth. “Typically, rice is grown in very high clay content soils where you can pack the clay down or there’s some sort of a hard pan that will trap the water. Here we don’t really have that so we’re artificially creating it. The whole goal is to do these replicated field experiments without potentially impacting other areas.”

Seyfferth also acknowledged her lab group as a whole for helping in the construction, noting that Andrew Morris, a research assistant, and Matt Limmer, a postdoctoral fellow, provided much help in the process.

Growing rice

Seyfferth said that the end of May is when the soil temperatures are warm enough to support the types of rice her group wants to grow. The rice will be germinated indoors and then transplanted to the paddies by the beginning of June, and harvested in September.

Because the rice grows in flooded conditions, Seyfferth said it helps to minimize unwanted plant growth because weeds do not do well in the flooded soils where rice thrives. That is a benefit because the researchers will not have to use large quantities of herbicides to control weeds.

“Flooding the soil also makes phosphorous more available, so we don’t expect to need to use phosphorous fertilizer at least for the first year,” said Seyfferth. “In most upland soils, places where corn, soy and everything else is grown, the phosphorous is typically very tightly held onto the soil and you have to add more phosphorous for increased productivity. For the rice, the same processes that will release arsenic will also release phosphorous, so there’s minimal fertilizer inputs that we need to worry about.”

International Year of Soils

The RICE Facility will host the inaugural Soil is Life one-day summer camp for middle school students this year, and Seyfferth said that because 2015 is the International Year of Soils, it is perfect timing.

“It’s really exciting to have the inaugural camp of Soil is Life happen to coincide with this International Year of Soils,” said Seyfferth.

Campers will study the rice and also some adjacent soil pits where they will be shown the soil profile and talk about the importance of soil and where their food comes from.

Seyfferth said that in addition to studying rice, campers will have opportunities to study other crops growing nearby, including a cornfield, a vegetable garden and an organic high tunnel put in place by CANR Dean Mark Rieger.

“There will be a lot of opportunities for the students to learn about many different types of food production in a small space,” said Seyfferth.

Now that the paddies have been installed, Seyfferth said she is eager to get started on the experiments.

“I think we’re just very excited that this idea was not only able to get funded but is now a reality. I think it provides potential new collaborations for the future with other faculty who are working on rice,” said Seyfferth. “I’m very excited about the project and can’t wait to see what comes of it.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Lindsay Yeager

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Longwood Fellow works to catalog ‘exceptional’ plants for future

Longwood Fellow works to catalog 'exceptional' plants for futureIn the event of a catastrophic occurrence that would threaten a plant species with extinction, special facilities have been developed in countries around the world to store seeds in very cold, very dry conditions – and with thorough documentation – so that the plant might be reproduced.

There are some “exceptional” plants that cannot be included in such seed banks, however, and for those plants, the data and the record keeping are less clear.

To fill the gap, University of Delaware graduate student Sara Helm Wallace has stepped in to create a resource that catalogs all of those plants found in the United States and Canada that cannot be seed banked.

Helm Wallace, who is a master’s degree student in the Longwood Graduate Program, said she is carrying on work that was started by the Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) organization.

The plants she is interested in are those known as “exceptional” because they produce seeds that cannot be preserved in seed banks for a variety of reasons – they produce few or no seeds, they cannot be easily propagated by seed, or they produce seeds infrequently.

“There are a lot of plants that do produce seeds but for whatever reason, their seeds are not viable and they don’t germinate into new plants,” she said. “And there are a lot of plants that produce seeds but they’re in a location in the seed production season such that humans can’t get to them.”

Although these exceptional plants cannot have their seeds stored in a bank, that does not mean that they cannot be preserved, Helm Wallace said.

“A lot of brilliant work is being done on exceptional plants – finding ways to store them and then to propagate them later on – but we don’t have a single source where we can go to find information on these plants,” Helm Wallace said. “That’s where I’m coming in – I’m developing that single source.”

Seed bank storage techniques

Some of the seed bank storage techniques include taking a tissue culture, a horticultural practice in which an embryo or a piece of leaf, stem, root or bud of a growing plant is taken and given nutrients. Those pieces are then bombarded with different kinds of plant hormones and grow into new plants.

“You can take a small leaf of a plant, depending on the plant, and get hundreds and thousands of new plants out of that leaf over time,” said Helm Wallace. “You might grow a new plant with these hormones and then you can cut that piece up and grow 100 plants from those cuttings, and it just goes on from there.”

Another way of storing these exceptional plants is known as cryopreservation, a popular example of which Helm Wallace said can be found in Star Wars.

“I was just looking at the clip where Han Solo is put in the carbonite and then he’s brought to life again and this is just like that. That’s what cryopreservation is. The plant part – perhaps a leaf bud – is put into liquid nitrogen and stored there for a number of years and then they are pulled out of liquid nitrogen. The cells are basically frozen in time and then pulled out of the liquid nitrogen and, given the proper nurturing, maybe a kiss from Princess Leia, can actually grow,” Helm Wallace said.

Creating the catalog

For her work creating the catalog, Helm Wallace said she is currently working on U.S. and Canadian plants but hopes to expand that to a global list and carry on her research once her master’s degree work is completed.

So far, she has compiled a list of 290 exceptional plants that are threatened and whose conservation needs are crucial.

Helm Wallace said there are 290 threatened exceptional species identified in the U.S. and Canada, but that she has asked 114 conservation professionals in North America to help advise her on a list of almost 6,000 other species because their exceptional status is unknown.

“In other words, we don’t know if they can be seed banked or not and we don’t know who is working on them and where,” said Helm Wallace.

Some examples of exceptional plants that Helm Wallace has cataloged include Lobelia boykinii, which Helm Wallace said is “a globally as well as locally imperiled species that is native to the coastal plain from New Jersey and scattered all the way down to Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. Lobelia boykinii used to be here in Delaware, specifically Sussex County, but is no longer found here.”

Helm Wallace said there are people working on preserving the plant through cryopreservation or tissue culture. “The implications are that, if there was a need to reintroduce the plant to Delaware, the data I am compiling would be housed in a well-curated database that would be an easy resource for anyone to go to so that they could find out who is working on the preservation of this species.”

Helm Wallace also said that there are at least 25 species of oak on the list that are not currently seed bankable.

“Can you imagine if our forests lost oaks to some sort of pest or disease? It should be easy to go to a database to find out who the experts are in oak tree preservation and propagation, so that we could repopulate our forests – assuming the pest or disease was controlled,” said Helm Wallace.

Now that Helm Wallace has worked on a list of exceptional plants for the U.S. and Canada, she is vetting databases and comparing them to find out what would be a suitable, well-curated, constantly updated online site for people to go to find the list of exceptional plants.

Helm Wallace plans to finish her thesis by July but she is hoping to write grants to get more funding to carry this project to the global level. “Wherever I end up in life, I am hoping to continue this project,” she said.

Article by Adam Thomas

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UD’s Bailey creates quilt out of Ag Day shirts from years past

Donna Bailey, employee of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources administration office, created a quilt called the Funky Blue Hen out of old Ag Day t-shirts.Of all the traditions of the University of Delaware’s Ag Day, perhaps none is more colorful and unique than the T-shirts that are created every year with a fresh design.

To honor and display the designs of years past, and also to raise awareness about the 2015 shirt, UD’s Donna Bailey has pieced together an Ag Day quilt.

Dubbed the “Funky Blue Hen” by her children and grandchildren — it features a design Bailey picked out called the “Funky Chicken” and has blue stitching — the quilt features Ag Day shirts from 2010, 2013 and 2014, as well as a shirt whose year is unlisted.

Bailey, who works in the administrative offices at the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, got the idea for the quilt when Katie Hickey, Ag Day coordinator for 2015, brought up old T-shirts from a storage closet.

“She handed me three of them and that was it. The idea was born so I took them home and cut them up,” said Bailey.

The T-shirts didn’t fill out the entire quilt so Bailey had to come up with an idea to fill in the blank sections. Because of the “Farm to Table” theme for Ag Day 2015 and a recipe contest that will be featured, she immediately thought of putting watermelons in canning jars.

She also wanted to do designs that represented the mission and the four departments of the college – Animal and Food Science, Applied Economics and Statistics, Entomology and Wildlife Ecology and Plant and Soil Sciences.

“I looked through my stash and I found fabric with brightly colored bugs and butterflies and worms. I thought, ‘Well, the butterflies and the bugs go with our entomology department and the worms go with our sustainable earth, and if I cut the fabric so the insects look like they are in canning jars, that kind of stayed with the theme of our Farm to Table concept.’ That was how the quilt got made,” said Bailey.

“I also saw this really cool fabric that became the border,” she added. “It reminded me of our wetlands, again our sustainable earth, and I just love the colors in it. We’re trying to preserve the earth and to keep it in its natural state and all the colors just pulled together like nature in all of its beauty.”

In addition to the Ag Day quilt, Bailey, who estimates that she has made around 400 quilts over the years, will have the other quilts available for purchase at Ag Day, scheduled from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, April 25.

One will be a bargello quilt done in blues and greens titled “Longwood,” as Bailey said she got her inspiration from the garden’s water lilies. Another will be a flannel quilt and the third is titled “Friendships Braid” and will feature sunflowers.

Of her favorite part about Ag Day, Bailey said she enjoys “seeing friends and family gathered and there’s an educational component, too. There are those ‘ah-ha’ moments where people learn about plants and animals — and the ice cream’s not bad either.”

As for the quilt, Bailey said that putting it together was a lot of fun. “It all just worked. Some quilts just flow and this one just kind of flowed out. I think it was meant to be.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Lindsay Yeager

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD part of effort to bring bobwhite quail back to New Jersey Pine Barrens

UD part of study to bring bobwhite quail back to New Jersey Pine BarrensAfter virtually disappearing from New Jersey, northern bobwhite quail were reintroduced into that state’s Pine Barrens on April 1 as the result of a three-year collaboration that includes the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR).

CANR representatives are working with Bill Haines, one of the nation’s largest cranberry growers and New Jersey’s largest landholder, the New Jersey Audubon Society, the Tall Timbers Research and Land Conservancy, and Bob Williams, owner of Pine Creek Forestry.

Eighty wild bobwhite quail were translocated from southern Georgia by Tall Timbers to Haines’ property in the New Jersey Pine Barrens.

This process will be repeated for the next three years, with 80 bobwhite quail being brought north and released every spring shortly before the breeding season.

Bobwhite decline

Chris Williams, associate professor in CANR’s Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology and director of the Waterfowl and Upland Gamebird Program, explained that the bobwhite quail have been declining in New Jersey primarily due to the loss of suitable habitat with conversion of agricultural areas to suburbia in the southwestern portion of the state and lack of forest management in the Pine Barrens.

“Over the last 40 years, the Pine Barrens have been devoid of forest management, such as thinning and burning, which naturally occurred in this region. As a result, the forests have become thick and unhealthy. This has promoted increased forest disease and low biodiversity – including the extinction of quail in the area,” said Williams.

Quail are known as an edge species, preferring habitats with a mixture of grassland, which they need for nesting and for night roosting, forest edges for cover, and, in some cases, agricultural areas for extra food.

“At night they go out in the grass and are fairly well protected from evening predators,” said Williams. “They also need escape cover and where you get a lot of that is right at the edge of woods or farmland corridors. They use that for feeding and escape cover during the daylight hours and during the winter months, depending on how far north you are, provide invaluable protection against bad winter weather.”

While Williams initially researched bobwhite in the southwestern agricultural areas of southwestern New Jersey 11 years ago, he recently discovered renewed forest management practices in the Pine Barrens were providing an excellent mix of early successional plants within a thinned forest. The pitch and short leaf pine system has begun to mimic prime bobwhite areas in southeastern United States.

Quail friends

The quail for the study were collected in southern Georgia and transported in eight boxes with 10 quail in each box and were released over eight different sites located in about two and half square miles of managed forest landscape.

“All the birds made the journey to New Jersey and they all flew out of the boxes very strong and healthy, which was great,” said Williams.

Williams said the birds were collected in groups of 10 so that when they were released, they would be surrounded by familiar birds who were part of their covey — a small flock of birds.

“In the winter the birds form up in these coveys and it can be a mixture of related birds, or it could be unrelated, but they spent the winter together as a group,” said Williams.

The birds form groups for a variety of reasons, such as better detection of predators, better ability to find food resources and huddling up on the night roost to stay warm.

By collecting wild birds and releasing them in familiar coveys, Williams said they stand a better chance for surviving in their new home. He also explained that because quail on average only have about an eight-month lifespan, they were released during the spring with the hope that they can breed and produce a sizable number of offspring before the winter.

“They’ll start to break out of these coveys and start to pair up for breeding around May. The best success for restoring bobwhite is right at this moment so you have the maximum number of individuals who can try to breed on the landscape,” said Williams. “They’re such a boom or bust species. Each summer, you have a mom and a dad and if they can get a brood of approximately 12 birds, you just need two of them to survive to the next spring and that’s usually what happens.”

Williams said it is even better if bobwhite can get off two broods in one summer to better their chances of population growth over the next year, and he is excited to see how the quail will respond to the habitat in the Pinelands.

Now that the initial group of quail have been released, Williams said that UD will oversee the project with two graduate level students conducting year-long studies on the birds.

Kaili Stevens, who Williams just accepted as a master’s degree student, will focus on the winter ecology and habitat use of the quail while a doctoral student who has yet to be selected will oversee the breeding season, survival, nest success and habitat use of the birds, as well as continue former songbird work Williams and his students have conducted in previous years.

“Ultimately, we’ll have a much better story about what this forest management means for avian biodiversity and conservation. It’s a much larger biodiversity question than just quail,” said Williams. “Those two graduate students are going to share responsibility and we’re going to follow these birds 365 days for the next three years. No one has ever looked at quail in the Pinelands and over all the projects I’ve done in my lifetime, this is perhaps one of the most rewarding.

“To go into an area where a species has been extinct for likely 50 years, conduct serious habitat management, and reintroduce the species is just amazing. This is truly a grand challenge and I am happy the University of Delaware’s Waterfowl and Upland Gamebird Program can be a part of this effort.”

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD alum dives into world of sea animal stranding, health, rehabilitation

UD alumna Wendy Marks, shown during her time working at Dolphin Quest Hawaii.
UD alumna Wendy Marks, shown during her time working at Dolphin Quest Hawaii.

When a dolphin calf became entangled in monofilament fishing line recently in the Indian River Lagoon near the east coast of Florida, University of Delaware alumna Wendy Marks was on hand to help with the rescue efforts.

Marks, who works for Florida Atlantic University at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute as part of the Stranding, Health and Rehabilitation Project team, said that with the help of multiple agencies and institutions, the group was able to track and locate the dolphin — which turned out to be a calf traveling with its mother — and eventually get the fishing line off its rostrum, or beak.

Working with dolphins has been a part of Marks’ life ever since she graduated from UD in 2002 with a bachelor’s degree in animal science from the College of Agriculture of Natural Resources (CANR) and decided that she wanted to pursue a career in large marine animal rehabilitation and conservation.

“I’ve always been kind of drawn to big animals. I grew up riding and then I rode on the UD equestrian team through college and I definitely saw my career going in a direction that works specifically with animals — preferably hands-on and probably with some type of big animal,” said Marks, who minored in biological sciences.

Dolphin Quest

Her career path started with an unpaid internship with Dolphin Quest Hawaii on the Big Island of Hawaii, where she spent three months learning the basics of dolphin training. This led to a position as a dolphin trainer at the Dolphin Quest site in Bermuda before eventually moving back to Dolphin Quest Hawaii.

Through these positions, Marks trained dolphins and led “swim with the dolphins” programs, where she took people into the water to meet the animals and learn more about them. She was also able to instill in the visitors a basic conservation message about recycling and making sure that trash gets placed in the proper receptacles so it does not end up in the ocean.

“It was a great way to give the general public a connection between the marine environment and a charismatic marine animal. This connection created meaning and allowed us to the get across important conservation messages about pollution. We discussed how no matter where on the earth you are located, you are effecting the environment and the critters that call it home,” said Marks. “It was quite an opportunity to not only train dolphins, but to also get a strong background in cetacean (dolphin and whale) husbandry and health care.”

Miami Seaquarium

Marks said she had an interest in learning more about marine life and getting involved in wild populations and decided to take a senior keeper position at the Miami Seaquarium in Florida.

Through this role, she helped supervise the manatee and sea turtle rehabilitation programs and oversaw a variety of animals including tropical birds, crocodiles, alligators and deer. The facility also had a resident sea turtle and manatee population that stayed on site because the animals were deemed non-releasable and would not have survived in the wild.

“This position incorporated some of my training skills with the birds and the resident animals that lived in the aquarium, and then also gave me experience doing manatee and sea turtle rehabilitation and stranding response. That was a cool combination for me,” said Marks.

Back to Hawaii

After a year at the aquarium, Marks decided to move back to Hawaii and got a job working in a small animal veterinary hospital for a short period of time before moving to Honolulu and working for the National Marine Fisheries Service, which is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), at the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC).

Marks said it was a great career move because she was working in the sea turtle stranding response program that also incorporated a great deal of research.

“I was there for three years and I was mostly in charge of doing sea turtle stranding response. If a sea turtle came up on shore sick, injured, or dead, we were the ones that were called and we would go and pick up the animal,” said Marks.

Marks said that the center in Honolulu also had jurisdiction over the other islands where their stranding partners were located, and that she worked with those partners to coordinate the arrival of live or dead sea turtles to their center in order to do rehabilitation or to determine cause of death.

“NOAA PIFSC brought in live animals for rehabilitation when necessary, but also did about 120 necropsies per year on four different sea turtles species to figure out cause of death,” said Marks.

According to Marks, determining cause of death is a vital conservation component.

“Studying the dead animals and doing necropsies is very rewarding to me because you can learn more about why those animals died and better help the population that’s still alive out in the wild,” said Marks.

Marks is involved with this aspect of conservation work once again at her current position at Florida Atlantic University, adding that her current job is quite diverse.

“I do a little bit of everything. I’m a first responder for cetacean stranding calls, veterinary technician, laboratory technician and researcher,” said Marks. “I also assist with all of the necropsies. It’s very interesting to me to see some of the trends in strandings and to specifically look for reasons as to why they would strand and what is causing damage or changes to the different cetacean populations. It’s like a mystery that we keep collecting clues to.”

Time at UD

Concerning her academic career at UD, Marks said she enjoyed studying at CANR and getting hands-on experience with the animals out on the farm, which allowed her to work directly with animals and not simply learn about them in the classroom.

As for advice for any current students looking to get into her line of work, or any type of conservation work with animals, Marks said to “take your opportunities as they come, whether it’s an unpaid internship or an opportunity to volunteer. All of those experiences can really help you make connections and teach you a variety of different skills within the field that can only help you further on in your career.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Originally published on UDaiy

Wommack named Deputy Dean for CANR

Eric Womack named Deputy Dean of CANREric Wommack has been named to the position of associate dean for research and graduate programs and deputy dean for the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) at the University of Delaware. Wommack assumed his new responsibilities on Wednesday, April 1.

Wommack, a professor of environmental microbiology in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, has worked at UD since January 2001. He also holds faculty appointments in the marine biology and biochemistry program in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment and in the Department of Biological Sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences.

CANR Dean Mark Rieger said that he is “pleased that Eric has accepted the position and is coming on board immediately. He has had a stellar career at UD and is well respected for his research and graduate student mentoring. Importantly, Eric has strong collaborations with the Department of Biological Sciences and the School of Marine Science and Policy, and has some great ideas for enhancing interdisciplinary collaboration between our college and others at UD. The tough problems in agriculture and natural resources only get solved via strong, interdisciplinary efforts.”

Of the appointment, Wommack said that he is “incredibly flattered and honored with the opportunity to hopefully make a difference in what we do.”

One of the aspects of the job that he is really looking forward to is helping grow an already strong graduate research program at CANR. “Graduate education and research has been my focus the entire time here. I’ve trained over a dozen graduate students who have gone on to do great things and I’ve always valued working with graduate students and with undergrads in the lab,” said Wommack.

Wommack said he is looking forward to working more closely with his faculty colleagues and that he enjoys the university setting “because I’m around really bright and creative people every day.”

Wommack received a bachelor of science degree in biology and a bachelor of arts degree in economics from Emory University, a master’s degree in physiology from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and a doctorate in marine estuarine environmental sciences from the University of Maryland.

Student skates on wheels and blades for Team USA, UD

Student skates on wheels and blades for Team USA, UDWhen University of Delaware student Natalie Motley went to her friend’s birthday party at a roller rink as a child, she never would have guessed that it would eventually lead her to skate in competitions all around the world for Team USA.

But Motley said that as she went around the rink and stared at a wall of pictures that had skaters in their competition outfits, she knew what she wanted to do with her life.

Motley is now studying to earn her associate degree in agriculture and natural resources at UD while at the same time majoring in environmental geology to receive a bachelor’s degree at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

She is also the reigning world champion in women’s inline free skating and has competed in eight world championships, earning one gold, one bronze and four silver medals along the way.

In addition to the medals, Motley has had an opportunity to see the world, traveling to competitions in Taiwan, New Zealand, Brazil, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

Motley also competes in events outside of the world championships and in 2014 she won the International Trophy of Artistic Roller Skating in the senior ladies inline event in Italy. She also won gold in the world class ladies inline free skating event at the 2014 World Artistic Roller Skating Championships in Spain.

Motley is part of the UD Intercollegiate Figure Skating Team, where she is coached by Joel McKeever, and she also takes ice skating lessons from Suzanne Semanick.

The UD team won nationals last year, won a recent competition on home ice, and has qualified for nationals once again this year, which will be held April 10-12 in Berkeley, California.

Motley recently took home the gold medal in the junior ladies short program in an intercollegiate competition held at UD and she said that she enjoys doing both roller and ice skating because “they complement each other nicely.”

With roller skating, ice skating and a full college workload, Motley said that the hardest part of her day is just staying awake, as school work and her training schedule can sometimes keep her up until 4 in the morning.

“One day I got about an hour of sleep and then I went to practice and I had an awesome practice and I was like, ‘Whoa, that’s surprising.’ Then the rest of the day I was pretty good but by the time I got home, I was really tired,” said Motley.

As for her day-to-day routine, Motley said that she does ice skating in the morning, roller skating in the afternoon — except for Tuesdays when she has a class from 3:30-6 — and classes and studying in between.

Like her affinity for skating, it was also as a child that Motley first developed an appreciation for agriculture, as she traveled every summer to her grandparents’ farm in Illinois where they grew corn and soybeans.

At UD, Motley is conducting research with Bruce Vasilas, professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, at Blackbird Forest in Smyrna, measuring about 23 wells to examine the hydrology of the site. Motley said the researchers are using IRIS tubes — PVC piping coated with a specifically formulated iron oxide paint — to determine how anaerobic the soils are in the forest which is a key indicator of a hydric soil.

Motley also checks herpetology boards for signs of a certain species of lizard whose population has been dwindling. “If I see one of those, I take a picture so we can send that in. But I haven’t seen any yet. I think it has been too cold,” said Motley.

As for her future career plans, Motley said that she hopes to pursue a career in agriculture with either the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the Environmental Protection Agency. She also is considering going on to get her master’s degree or heading to Illinois to be closer to her grandparents’ farm.

As to skating, Motley said she will definitely keep roller skating for at least another year.

“This is basically starting a new season for roller and I decided that I’m going to keep doing it since I have another year of school — I may as well keep busy. It keeps me healthy and gets me on a schedule, which I like.”

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

University of Delaware Botanic Gardens plan plant sale preview, walk

UDBG plant sale set for Friday, April 24The University of Delaware Botanic Gardens (UDBG) will host a pair of preview events in advance of the annual benefit plant sale scheduled April 24-25 on the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources campus in Newark.

John Frett, UDBG director, and Robert Lyons, UDBG board president and former director of the University’s Longwood Graduate Program in Public Horticulture, will present images and specimens of the plants that will be available at the sale in a discussion to be held from 7-8:30 p.m., Tuesday, April 7, in the Townsend Hall Commons.

The following week, Frett will lead a guided walk through the UDBG grounds to see landscape-sized specimens of plants that will be offered at the sale. The walk will be held from 4-5:30 p.m., Wednesday, April 15, and participants will meet at the Fischer Greenhouse Entrance on Roger Martin Lane.

The cost for each event is $5 for UDBG Friends and $10 for nonmembers. Space is limited for the guided walk and those who plan to attend must pre-register. To reserve a spot for either or both of these events, call 302-831-2531 or email BotanicGardens@udel.edu.

Those with interest in the sale are invited to view the UDBG plant sale catalog on the website.

About the sale

UDBG Friends enjoy an exclusive day to shop at the sale on Thursday, April 23, from 3-7 p.m.

Plant sale general admission is Friday, April 24, from 3-7 p.m. and Saturday, April 25, which is Ag Day, from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free.

To enjoy other exclusive member benefits, join the Friends online or contact Melinda Zoehrer at 302-831-0153 or BotanicGardens@udel.edu.

The gardens are open year round to provide ideas and inspiration, or for a quiet stroll. UDBG contributes to an understanding of the relationships between plants and people through education, research, cooperative extension, and community support.

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD student gets hands-on experience in South African veterinary clinic

Sydney Bruck worked in South African rehabilitation center and veterinary clinicThe first time University of Delaware student Sydney Bruck went to South Africa she was 17 and about to go off to the college, and while she knew she wanted to have a job working with animals, she had little experience and no idea what particular area she wanted to specialize in.

When she returned to South Africa this winter, after one and a half years studying pre-veterinary medicine and animal biosciences (PVAB) in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences at UD, she was not only certain about her career path but she was able to gain additional hands-on experience, applying the knowledge gained at UD to good use in the field.

Bruck, who majors in PVAB and minors in wildlife conservation and biology, first traveled to South Africa through the African Conservation Experience (ACE) program. ACE placed her with two organizations, Khulula Care for Wild and the Shimongwe Wildlife Veterinary Experience, which set her up with a position at the Blouberg Animal Clinic.

With the Khulula program, Bruck was in the town of Nelspruit for a month taking care of wildlife in a rehabilitation center. She said it was a full-time responsibility that saw her doing tasks like waking up to feed kittens at 3 a.m. or warming baby rhinos who couldn’t regulate their body temperatures during the night.

“It was a completely selfless experience and it really helped me grow as a person,” said Bruck.

The experience was also one that took her completely away from the comforts of home, as the town was an hour away from civilization.

“We lived in the bush. There was barely any electricity, not much running water and you had to build a fire for a hot shower. I was 17 doing this and I flew over there by myself, didn’t know anyone there — it was really to get myself out of my comfort zone and grow up, learn what I wanted to do,” Bruck said.

The program also allowed her to see parts of South Africa, including the Kruger National Park, and taught her a lot about leadership, as every week she had to pass on information to new recruits who came into the program. She was also exposed to exotic animals.

Perhaps most importantly, the service trip taught Bruck that she didn’t want to take care of animals around the clock for a living. “It didn’t really inspire me to become a veterinarian because it’s a lot of work taking care of animals every single day, and it wasn’t what I wanted to do.”

She discovered what she wanted to do during the second program, which was in a bigger town and dealt with companion animals as well as calls to farms.

“It was such a different experience,” said Bruck. “I actually had a proper bed, a real shower, so it was definitely different. We shadowed a wildlife vet and that’s what I really loved doing.”

Bruck said that she was given a lot of trust by the veterinarians at the clinic who gave her important tasks to complete, such as helping to administer blood, tuberculosis and pregnancy tests to 40 water buffalo and then giving them anti-parasite medicine during her first day on the job.

“It was completely out of my comfort zone but it was such a rush getting out into the field and dealing with antelopes, wildebeests and buffalo,” said Bruck.

At this program, Bruck also got to work with companion animals in the veterinary clinic and she established connections that allowed her to travel back to South Africa this past winter.

“The first time around, I wasn’t qualified to take any of those experiences and really learn and possibly apply those in the future if I become a vet because I had no background,” said Bruck. “So studying at UD and going through all the classes and being here for one and a half years and then going back was amazing because I actually had some background. During class, I could actually go back and realize, ‘Oh, this is what we were doing then.’”

This time around, Bruck spent two months in South Africa, working more with companion animals in a clinic, helping with surgeries and replacing and giving IV lines to puppies afflicted with parvovirus, which is a big issue in South Africa.

With regard to the surgeries, Bruck said that one of the veterinarians there commended her on her ability to jump in and help out but to also stay away when she wasn’t needed, which she said can be equally important in that setting.

Bruck would also go around on vaccination consultations, learning what to look for during routine checks and picking up some of the South African Afrikaans language.

All this work in the clinic helped Bruck realize exactly how she wants to help out animals in her future career.

“Once I got to the veterinary side, I realized that I don’t like taking care of animals. I like treating them. And I think that’s a huge distinction that I don’t think many people can see,” said Bruck. “I don’t want to walk the dog, or feed the dog, but if you come to me with a problem, I will give it my heart and try my best to fix it.”

Bruck also said that it is important for those who are thinking about a veterinary career to realize there are a lot of areas to the field and to find one that works best for them, which to her means treating companion animals. “You know it’s always a struggle between money and happiness but I think that in this case, happiness would probably have to stay with the companion animals.”

As for her continued visits to South Africa, Bruck said that she can “definitely picture when people are begging me to retire, I could see myself moving to South Africa to open a clinic there just to see if I can bring anything to the table. It definitely brought a lasting mark to my life. They gave me so much that I’ll bring with me forever so if I could give that back in any way, that would be fantastic.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos courtesy of Sydney Bruck

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Two UD seniors selected as Peace Corps volunteers in Africa, South America

Abby Kramer and Kerry Snyder have been selected to go to the Peace CorpsTwo University of Delaware seniors, Abby Kramer and Kerry Snyder, have been selected as Peace Corps volunteers for 2015.

According to the Peace Corps organization, its volunteers “reflect the very best of humanity, innovation and aspiration for a better tomorrow.”

Kramer, an Honors Program student majoring in environmental science, will volunteer in Senegal as an agroforestry extension agent.

“I will be working within a local community to fight agricultural issues such as deforestation and food insecurity,” she said, “while developing more sustainable agricultural practices.”

The current Peace Corps student ambassador on campus, Kramer has been interested in joining the Peace Corps since high school because of her interest in travel and the opportunity to look into broader issues that affect the lives of people around the world.

An Honors Program student majoring in wildlife conservation, Snyder will serve in Paraguay, where she will work with children, farmers and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to promote conservation.

While Snyder has not yet received her permanent location placement in Paraguay, she looks forward to employing knowledge from her major and environmental humanities minor to potentially train teachers, participate in educational work and work on ecotourism projects wherever she is placed in the country.

Snyder’s interest in becoming a more globally engaged citizen is what led her to pursue Peace Corps service.

After studying abroad in Cambodia during her sophomore year, she wanted to do more. “With study abroad there is a lot of observing and seeing what things are like in another country,” Snyder said. “I want to become a part of a community.”

Kramer and Snyder join an elite group of 308 UD alumni who have served as Peace Corps volunteers. Currently 20 UD alumni are still serving in the field.

Applying to be a Peace Corps volunteer

Students interested in applying to the Peace Corps should visit the website for more information. Applicants must be U.S. citizens who are 18 years of age, and should submit their application nine months to one year in advance of their desired departure date. Volunteer opportunities include two-year assignments in more than 60 countries, 3-12 month “high impact” assignments, and one-year physician and nurse volunteer options.

In addition, Kramer will host a Peace Corps screening and panel presentation on Wednesday, March 11, from 7-9 p.m. at the Career Services Center on Academy Street. The event will highlight winners from last year’s video competition, which had as its theme, “What I Wish Americans Knew About My Host Country.”

About the Peace Corps

The Peace Corps is an international volunteer program in which Americans are able to completely immerse themselves in a culture unlike their own. Today, volunteers have the opportunity to serve in one of six sectors — education, health, youth in development, agriculture, environment, or community economic development — in over 64 countries across the world.

Since its inception in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy, nearly 220,000 Americans have served as Peace Corps volunteers in 140 countries worldwide.

March 1 marked the Peace Corps’ 54th anniversary. To commemorate its founding over half a century ago, “Peace Corps Week” celebrations occurred across the United States.

Article by Jessica Franzetti

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CANR to host annual community push lawn mower tune-up service

Alpha Gamma Rho will host their annual lawn mower tune-up starting April 10The University of Delaware’s Alpha Gamma Rho (AGR) fraternity for agriculture and the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Club are once again offering a push lawn mower tune-up service on Friday, April 10, and Saturday, April 11, rain or shine.

The event will be held at the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) campus, with pick up on Saturday, April 11, and Sunday, April 12.

Over 7,000 mowers have been serviced at the event since 2000.

The tune-up is provided by trained students and alumni members of the clubs and includes washing the mower, an oil change, spark plug replacement, air filter cleaning and blade sharpening.

Service performed is tune-up only; no repairs will be performed and no riding mowers will be accepted.

Richard Morris, UD farm manager and adviser for AGR, said it is a good idea to have a lawn mower tuned up every year in order to make it last longer. He also noted that the event has a lot of repeat customers.

Jason Morris, a junior in CANR, said that there will be about 30-40 volunteers this year, including current members of AGR, each of whom will volunteer for a minimum of 15 hours, and SAE, and also some AGR alumni.

The cost of the tune-up is $38. Payment in the form of cash or check may be made at drop off. Checks should be made out to Alpha Gamma Rho.

Drop off times are from 2-8 p.m. on Friday, April 10, and from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. on Saturday, April 11.

Customers can pick up their mowers on Saturday from 1-6 p.m. for the first 300 mowers taken on Friday, or on Sunday, April 12, from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. for the remaining mowers.

All mowers must be picked up by 2 p.m. on Sunday. The owners of any mowers not picked up by Sunday will be charged a storage fee.

Richard Morris said he wanted to “thank the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources for letting us take over their parking lot and for having the full support from the dean and the college.”

Lawn mowers may be dropped off and picked up in the parking lot behind Worrilow and Townsend halls on UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources campus at 531 S. College Ave., just north of the Fred Rust Ice Arena. Look for signs for the tune-up.

For more information, contact Jason Morris of AGR at jcmorris@udel.edu or 302-388-7475.

UD statistics student works on analytics for hockey, basketball teams

Marc Rothman, Junior in APEC (Applied Economics and Statistics), does statistics work for the UD hockey and basketball teams.University of Delaware student Marc Rothman has always been interested in sports and statistics so when he saw an email from Tom Ilvento, professor in the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics, looking for students interested in doing statistics and analytics for the women’s ice hockey team, he jumped at the opportunity.

Rothman, a junior majoring in statistics and actuarial science, spent the last few months working as the director of analytics for the women’s ice hockey club team. He looked at statistics and trends that would help give the team an edge on its opponents.

Rothman compiled all of the basic statistics — goals, assists and face-off win percentage — into an Excel spread sheet and said the biggest impact he had on the team was when it came to face-offs, as he helped them learn more about their face-off win percentage.

The team was 7-14 last year and this year, with Jesse McNulty taking over as head coach, they finished the season 12-4-1. Rothman said McNulty told him that the team’s adjustments based on his data analysis is the major reason that the team improved their record.

Rothman said he is very appreciative of the opportunity and all the support McNulty has given him, as it has led to other opportunities beyond hockey. One such opportunity involved an analysis of ticket sales for the Wilmington Blue Rocks minor league baseball team, considering how promotional games and weather affect sales. He also looked at monthly and day-to-day statistics for the past three years.

“I looked at that data with a statistical program called JMP and I was able to graph the results and send it to the coach. He and his high school sports analytics club are presenting it to the general manager of the Blue Rocks in a few weeks,” said Rothman. “That is one great thing about McNulty, he opened up a lot of opportunities.”

Basketball scouting reports

In addition to the women’s ice hockey team, Rothman also worked with the UD varsity men’s basketball team. He compiled scouting reports on UD opponents prior to games, using statistics collected from websites such as Sports-Reference.com, as well as watching the other teams play.

Rothman said that college basketball has a wealth of statistical information available online, which helped him spot trends for certain players.

“There are websites that have all of these players’ game logs, so what I mostly do in my scouting reports for the team is look at the opponents and look at their trends. I look at stats but the really interesting analytics are trends — like when someone gets the ball, whether they’re going to shoot without dribbling, or drive to the basket, or drive left or right. All of that data is available,” said Rothman.

Rothman said that even though he loves statistics, he does not believe they can tell a person everything they need to know about what a player does on the court. He likes to look at the numbers first and then watch the games — or vice versa — to help him get a sense of how particular players play the game. He also stresses the importance of trends.

“In sports like basketball and hockey, I think trends are very valuable, especially to add to stats like points per game and field goal percentage,” said Rothman. “What’s really great about the trends is that you can see it in the games but you can also put numbers to it to see what percentage of the time someone drives right or drives left, among other tendencies, and this helps make valuable conclusions.

“You can understand basic trends from watching the game but putting numbers behind it to back it up is something you can go to the players and give them the information. I really like when numbers back up what I’m trying to argue.”

Rothman, who grew up loving baseball statistics, said that he originally applied to colleges with the idea of majoring in business. When he took an Advanced Placement statistics class as a senior in high school and had to do a project analyzing NFL running backs and their statistics, however, he set his mind on a career in statistics. That idea was reaffirmed during a visit to the UD campus.

“When I visited Delaware, I sat with Dr. Ilvento and talked to him for about an hour about statistics and what you can do with them and how it’s going to be the next big thing and about how all of these jobs are becoming available. That conversation really helped me decide to come to Delaware. I talk to Ilvento all the time about this stuff,” said Rothman.

If there is one thing that he wants people to know about sports statistics and analytics, it’s that sports statisticians can be athletes themselves.

“A lot of people think sports statistics are analyzed by people who never played sports or never knew anything about sports and they’re just trying to get into the sports world. That’s what Charles Barkley said a few weeks ago, and I completely disagree with that,” said Rothman. “I’m not saying statistics have to be the end all decision maker of sports but I think analytics really offer an additional tool and a really important additional tool at that. And I think you’re crazy if you don’t use analytics to some extent, whether it be statistics or trends.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Lindsay Yeager

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UD professors honored for work on sustainable landscape project

Jules Bruck and Sue Barton received a Land Ethics Award for their demonstration garden at ApplecrossUniversity of Delaware professors Jules Bruck and Sue Barton have received the Land Ethics Award in the residential category from Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve for their work on a sustainable demonstration project in the northern New Castle County community of Applecross.

They were presented the award at the 15th annual Land Ethics Symposium on Thursday, March 12, at Delaware Valley College in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.

According to the Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve website, the purpose of the Land Ethics Award is to honor and recognize individuals, organizations, government agencies, community groups and business professionals who have made significant contributions to the promotion of native plants and have exhibited a strong land ethic while promoting sustainable designs that protect the environment.

For their particular project, the awards jury noted that the project “clearly demonstrated what can happen when several partners collaborate to change a sterile home landscape into one of environmental value. One can only think that the neighbors will be queuing up themselves to upgrade their own properties with similar projects.”

Bruck, associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences (PLSC), said the award carries great meaning. “I’m happy that it’s a Land Ethics Award and I think that’s just such a nice way to honor how designers can make a difference in land stewardship versus our traditional role, which has just been more aesthetic based,” she said.

The Applecross demonstration project was designed and installed by researchers and students at UD and displays sustainable practices that reduced the lawn area of a residential yard by 50 percent while maintaining enough lawn for circulation, play and entertaining.

The project began in April 2012 and, since then, those involved with the project have increased plant diversity by 500 percent, improved water quality and quantity on the property and planted the area with 95-97 percent native plants.

The landscape also includes a 6,000-square-foot meadow and a 3,000-square-foot reforestation area. Turf paths wind through the meadow and landscape beds and connect large areas of lawn.

“The idea was to show people that you can incorporate a meadow and a forest into a residential landscape,” said Barton, associate professor of plant and soil sciences.

In addition to being functional, the landscape is also visually appealing, something that Barton stressed because she believes that sometimes when people hear about native landscapes, they think only of the functionality and not of the aesthetic appeal.

“Almost all the plants are native and they’re quite showy. Sometimes native plants have a connotation of being less formal, less colorful, a compromise, and they’re not a compromise at all. It’s a very dramatic landscape. There’s almost always something blooming,” said Barton.

Bruck added that while the landscape is quite different from the yards of the surrounding houses from a functional and ecological perspective, it doesn’t look that much different from the front, as most of the showy aspects are more toward the back of the property.

“I thought it was really interesting that the sustainable landscape that we put around the entire house just didn’t look that much different than everybody else’s landscape,” said Bruck. “It wasn’t like a wild look. It wasn’t a messy look. It was well cared for, well maintained.”

Bruck said that even though they used a large quantity of native plants in order to cover the ground and make it dense, the landscape is still orderly.

“I think orderly is one of the things that doesn’t always translate when people think about native landscapes or ecological landscapes. We still use design principles to guide our placement of plants. They’re not supposed to be wild, messy landscapes just because they have native plants in them, and they are highly functioning landscapes,” said Bruck.

In addition to being visually appealing and ecologically functional, the landscape also provides a great teaching tool for students and for members of the community at large, as there have been at least five public tours of the site.

One of the tours was sponsored by the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society, and it attracted several hundred people. The last tour in October 2014 drew around 80 people.

“Master Gardeners have gone and we’ve brought professionals there as part of the turf and landscape expo that we hold in Hockessin every November,” Barton said.

When the project wraps up in August, Barton said the space can still serve as a learning tool for the future because of a large number of photographs of the project that are available.

“We have hundreds of images of Applecross so that even though we can’t bring tours back to that site anymore, we have it documented in photos so that we can use that as an educational resource forever,” said Barton.

Now that the demonstration site will be closing, Barton said that they are hopeful they can find space at the University to demonstrate how homeowners can incorporate a meadow or forest using native plants in a home landscape.

The demonstration garden was funded by a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) that was awarded to Barton, Bruck, Joshua Duke, professor in the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics (APEC), Shreeram Inamdar, professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, and Doug Tallamy, professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology (ENWC).

In addition to many volunteers, contributors to the project include North Creek Nurseries, Octoraro Nursery and Steve Gantz of All Seasons Landscaping.

Article by Adam Thomas

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College of Agriculture and Natural Resources announces date for annual Ag Day

Ag Day 2015 will be held April 25Ag Day, an annual tradition of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) at the University of Delaware, will be held on Saturday, April 25, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The theme of Ag Day 2015 is “Farm to Table.”

The Food Bank of Delaware will be on hand to accept donations of non-perishable food items. There will also be a “Farm to Table” recipe contest.

Members of the campus community, and the surrounding community, are encouraged to join the college for a day filled with music, exhibitors, great food and fun on UD’s South Campus.

Celebrating all that the college has to offer, visitors can experience everything from bird shows to bee demonstrations, livestock exhibits, 4-H arts and crafts, farm tours, plant sales, and much more.

The event will be held at CANR’s Townsend Hall, located at 531 South College Avenue in Newark. Both admission and parking are free and the event is open to the public.

Ag Day is family friendly, however, for the safety of the live animal demonstrations, organizers ask that all pets be left at home.

Registration for exhibitors and vendors is now open and runs until Friday, March 20. Registration is available on the Ag Day website. 

The website also features additional information, announcements and schedules, and will be updated as the event approaches.

Photo by Danielle Quigley

UDairy Creamery helps university creameries share ice cream, cheeses in DC

UDairy Creamery at CARET Conference in D.C.The University of Delaware’s UDairy Creamery offered a helping hand to fellow university-based creameries from around the United States, serving its own ice cream as well as treats from 12 other institutions during a special event March 2 in Washington, D.C.

The selections were served during the 2015 meeting of the Council for Agricultural Research, Extension, and Teaching (CARET), which is part of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU).

The national event draws deans from universities with agricultural colleges and schools to Capitol Hill. Several members of Congress and 200 congressional staff members also attended.

Fourteen workers from the UDairy Creamery were stationed alongside federal relations officers from each institution at booths throughout the room to serve ice cream to visitors.

Melinda Litvinas, UDairy Creamery manager, said UD offered to serve ice cream from the other universities as UD is the closest creamery to Washington.

Because all the food had to be inspected before it could be brought into federal facilities, it made sense for the UDairy Creamery to take the items as its proximity meant fewer time constraints.

Of the creameries in attendance, 12 had ice cream, seven offered ice cream and cheese, and one had cheese only.

“I think it was good opportunity for all the schools demonstrate their value because the congressional staff members who work with these universities aren’t at the creameries all the time,” Litvinas said. “It was nice for the schools to be able to show off in D.C. and there’s a lot of talk about making it an annual event.”

In addition to helping the creameries show their wares, the UDairy Creamery will host the University Creamery Managers Association annual meeting from June 17-18 in Townsend Hall. At the event, all 21 university creamery managers from across the country will be invited to visit UD.

Some of the creameries that sent ice cream or cheese to the event were Pennsylvania State University, Clemson University, the University of Missouri, the University of Wisconsin and South Dakota State University.

UD alumnus finds potentially dangerous fleas on New York City rats

Matt Frye conducts research on fleas in NYCWhen University of Delaware alumnus Matt Frye signed on to work with researchers from Columbia University studying pathogens of Norway rats in New York City, he knew that as the team’s entomologist he would be combing the rats for critters such as fleas, lice and mites.

What he didn’t know was that he would find such a high rate of the oriental rat flea — an insect that hasn’t been documented in New York since the 1920s and is a known vector for several important human diseases such as murine typhus and the plague.

The results of these findings were reported recently in the Journal of Medical Entomology.

Despite their name, Frye explained that Norway rats actually come from Asia and through the years have traveled the world with humans on wagons and trade ships, carrying a familiar set of ectoparasites as they make their way across the globe.

“Studies that are specifically interested in rat ectoparasites tend to find the same cast of characters,” said Frye. For example, researchers in Hawaii — Pingjun Yang, Sandra Oshiro and Wesley Warashina from the Hawaii Department of Health —published a paper in 2009 that found all the same ectoparasites on their rats that Frye and the Columbia research team found in New York.

“We were not necessarily surprised to find any of these critters, but we were surprised at the numbers that we found,” said Frye, an extension educator with the New York State Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Program at Cornell University

The group collected the data over a one-year period from five different sites in the city, specifically areas where rats and humans are most likely to have direct contact with one another.

All told, Frye took samples from 133 rats and collected a total of 545 fleas. Of those 133 rats, he said that about 30 percent were infested with fleas.

“The interesting thing is that the fleas were unevenly distributed by site. At the outdoor site, a single flea was collected from 26 rats. Meanwhile, all 20 rats from another site had fleas, and that site accounted for 94.1 percent of the total 545 fleas we collected,” said Frye. “The implication is that a more thorough survey of rats is needed to understand the distribution of ectoparasites in New York City.”

At the site where all 20 rats had fleas, Frye collected 83 fleas from just one rat, which could be cause for alarm according to plague surveillance literature. Frye said that a flea index — the total number of fleas divided by the total number of rodents captured — below 1.0 represents a remote possibility of a disease outbreak.

“In 1925 in New York, the flea index was 0.22. In our study, the index was 4.1 for all 133 rats, and 5.1 for rats caught indoors. That was surprising,” he said.

However remote, the potential exists for diseases like murine typhus and the plague to surface, Frye said, noting, “We have the rats, we have the vector that can transfer pathogens from the rats to humans, so it’s sort of a recipe for disaster if plague or typhus were introduced.”

Frye is hoping that the revelation of the high numbers of oriental rat fleas discovered in New York City’s rat population will lead to more research on the subject.

“The purpose of this study was to take a first look at what pathogens and ectoparasites are present on Norway rats New York City,” said Frye. “However, our study was limited in scope, and has led to more questions than answers. For instance, we do not know the distribution of these organisms, nor do we know if the conditions are right to sustain something like plague. What we do know is that more work is needed to better understand the risk of exposure to rodent-borne disease for New Yorkers.”

The researchers also discovered several new species of viruses and some pathogens that haven’t been recorded before in New York City. The results of those findings were released in a paper published last year by the American Society for Microbiology.

The viruses are listed as two novel hepaciviruses, one novel pegivirus and one novel pestivirius. Frye explained because the viruses are new and were detected using novel screening methods, the researchers “don’t know much about the viruses and if or how they might impact human health.”

Time at UD

While at UD, Frye worked with Judy Hough-Goldstein, professor of entomology, for six years studying biological control of invasive plants, specifically kudzu, as both a master’s and doctoral student.

As a master’s student, Frye conducted research on a specific insect and its potential to control the plant — which ultimately didn’t work out due to the insect’s appetite for soybeans — and as a doctoral level student, he looked at different types of damage with kudzu to see if any reduced the plant’s growth and reproduction.

Frye said that his time at UD working with Hough-Goldstein and the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology was beneficial to his career.

“Our department at the time was relatively small, so there was a lot of interaction between graduate students and faculty that I found to be exceptionally valuable. I felt very fortunate to have Dr. Hough-Goldstein as an adviser, because she was very organized and helped her students develop as scientists,” said Frye.

In his role with the New York State IPM Program, Frye said that he provides training, demonstrations, workshops and creates educational materials about pest management and specifically structural or urban pest management, which deals with the insects that infest buildings, schools and homes.

He said that his favorite part of his job is “working with people. I get to interact with homeowners, with universities, and pest professionals. Helping people find a solution to their pest problem is a very rewarding experience.”

Article by Adam Thomas

New research characterizes novel aspects of maize reproduction

Blake Meyers, the Edward F. and Elizabeth Goodman Rosenberg Professor and Chair for Plant and Soil Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, along with his research team Kun Huang, Atul Kakrana, Parth Patel, TC, Saleh Tamim, Reza Hammond, and Sandra Mathioni in plots of corn on the UD farm. Dr. Meyers's "research includes programs that emphasize bioinformatics and plant functional genomics."Male reproductive organ development in maize involves a complex array of ribonucleic acid molecules (RNAs) with potentially diverse activities in gene regulation, demonstrated by new research from the University of Delaware and Stanford University.

In addition, this work suggests that the beginning phases of such development in maize and mammals – two very different life forms – have some intriguing molecular parallels.

The research findings have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) by a team of scientists led at UD by Blake Meyers, chair of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the Edward F. and Elizabeth Goodman Rosenberg Professor of Plant and Soil Sciences.

The first author on the paper is Jixian Zhai, a former graduate student who worked with Meyers and is now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Zhai was a 2014 recipient of the prestigious Life Science Research Foundation postdoctoral fellowship, sponsored by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

Meyers collaborated with Virginia Walbot, professor in the Department of Biology at Stanford University, to characterize maize anthers — the male reproductive organs — that had been carefully staged through the developmental transition and were perfect for the molecular studies in which the UD team has specialized.

The Walbot lab has a longstanding interest and expertise in anther development, and they work with a large collection of male-sterile maize mutants with altered anther development. Analysis of a subset of those mutants provided key insights in the study.

With the materials from the Stanford group, Meyers said the researchers put the plant tissues through an analysis pipeline that his lab has developed and refined in the years since he came to UD in 2002. This work involves purifying and sequencing the small RNAs from the anthers and integrating the resulting data into a computational software package

“We were really excited to see the results when we noticed a tremendous increase in the abundance of these molecules that was perfectly timed to developmental transitions that take place in the anther,” said Meyers.

Their work built on and extended findings from data published earlier by other labs in a study focused on rice. That earlier study showed the abundance of some of the same molecules in reproductive tissues, but lacked the temporal resolution of the staged maize anthers used by the Meyers and Walbot labs and the spatial resolution provided by the mutants and other advanced localization techniques they employed.

Because maize has a separate male inflorescence (the tassel) and female inflorescence (the ear), the researchers were able to study the male flower separate from the female flower, a further advantage over working in rice, which has combined male and female flowers.

With Walbot’s lab able to dissect the anthers at very precise stages — from their earliest origins when they are only a fraction of a millimeter in length all the way up to the mature anthers, which are about five millimeters — the research team was able to assess the developmental transition from early anthers to mature pollen.

“We could see that these RNAs fell out into two classes: an early class and a middle-to-late class,” said Meyers.

Meyers explained that the early class corresponds to developmental events in which the cell types are becoming organized, defining the cellular architecture of the anther, whereas the later class corresponds exactly to meiosis, the process of production of the haploid microspores that ultimately mature into the pollen grains.

“We could see that the increases in the abundance of these two groups of small RNAs exactly corresponded with those two developmental phases,” said Meyers.

Maize and mammals

Where this intersects with mammals and animal developmental biology is that there has been a lot of work in mammals on a very unusual class of small RNAs that are particularly abundant and enriched in male reproductive organs during early development.

“These mammalian small RNAs, called piRNAs, have a very unique pathway for their production. Tremendously abundant and in mammals, there are two classes: an early class and a kind of middle to late class. We were intrigued to see in maize several analogous features; yet the plant and animal small RNAs abundant in male reproduction share no apparent common origin,” said Meyers. “We think that they are independently evolved in the lineages of plants and in mammals.”

What the researchers don’t know yet is whether there are analogies of function.

“All we know for now is that there are several unusual similarities between these classes of RNAs. And to use these methods to characterize the unique yet analogous aspects of the plant reproductive small RNAs was a particularly rewarding part of the work,” said Meyers.

Different from Arabidopsis

Maize and rice, the two plant species best characterized for these novel small RNAs, are in the branch of the plant kingdom that’s known as the monocots, one of the major groups of flowering plants.

Another major group of flowering plants — the eudicots — contains the plant species most studied at the molecular level, the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana.

In Arabidopsis thaliana, however, there is no evidence that these two classes of small RNAs exist, let alone are enriched during anther development.

Meyers was able to see this firsthand when he collaborated with a group at Cold Spring Harbor to look at small RNAs in Arabidopsis flowers. “That work gave us many insights into small RNAs and plant reproductive biology,” said Meyers. “In that work, we looked at Arabidopsis flowers including comparable stages of anthers and there was no evidence for these classes of small RNAs that we saw in maize. We can conclude that there are distinct but abundant classes of small RNAs in these different lineages of plants.”

This means that maize and the Arabidopsis diverged in their use of small RNAs during evolution, and yet despite this evolutionary divergence, there are signs of a possible convergence between the grasses (i.e. maize) and animals in the use of small RNAs in reproduction.

Spatial mapping 

The paper also describes the development of a spatial map of the production of those small RNAs, combining their collaborators’ expertise in anther biology with microscopy in the Bio-Imaging Center in the Delaware Biotechnology Institute (DBI).

“Professor Walbot has collected many male sterile mutants of maize, plants defective, for a wide variety of reasons, in the production of mature, fertile pollen,” said Meyers. “She was able to pick from this collection mutants that she thought would be particularly informative to identify the cell layers required for production of these small RNAs.”

A mature maize anther contains five cell types and the researchers looked at mutants that were defective in one or more cell layers to see if the production of the small RNAs was dependent on one or more of these layers.

The researchers then combined that data from the mutant analysis with microscopic visualization techniques called in situ hybridizations that allowed them to probe dissected tissue for the presence of their RNAs of interest.

“We could essentially say, ‘The mutant analysis indicates that small RNA X is found in cell layer Y; if we use the dissected anther and we apply a labeled version of X, do we observe it in that cell layer?’ These images took advantage of the advanced microscopy at DBI,” said Meyers.

With those data, the researchers were able to reveal specific cell layers required for production of the two classes of small RNAs, allowing them to validate the mutant analysis. One discrepancy in the mutant and hybridization results suggested that at least one set of small RNAs might move across cell layers – a result that they can test in future experiments.

Next steps

Meyers said that the next step for the research is to discover the functional roles of these small RNAs.

“We know they’re extremely abundant, we know that they increase in abundance at very particular stages in anther development, and they’re dependent on very particular cell layers in the anther, but we still don’t know exactly what their functions are. That’s a really intriguing mystery because in the functions of almost all other plants, small RNAs are at least generally well-described,” said Meyers.

This research was funded as part of a four-year, $6.5 million National Science Foundationgrant to analyze developmental events in maize anthers and tassels.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Evan Krape

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD’s 2015 Philadelphia Flower Show exhibit to feature plants from Amazon

UD students work on the Philadelphia Flower Show ExhibitThe University of Delaware exhibit at this year’s Philadelphia Flower Show will provide visitors a lesson in the inherent value of abundant plant life, with a focus on useful, edible and therapeutic plants found in the Amazon rainforest.

The exhibit, which has been prepared by students and faculty members in the Design Process Practicum class and the Design and Articulture (DART) student organization, will highlight the diversity of plants found in the Amazon and the capacity of the rich ecosystem to provide medicines for ailments.

The flower show will run Feb. 28 through March 8 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

The idea for the theme originated last spring in the interdisciplinary Design Process Practicum class, which 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 the Department of Art.

Students in the class split into three groups and each group had to design a flower show exhibit for three separate clients — the Amazon Center for Environmental Education and Research (ACEER), Duffy’s Hope, a service provider for at-risk and hard to reach youth ages 12-17, and Connections Community Support Programs Inc., which provides a comprehensive array of health care, housing and employment opportunities that help individuals and families to achieve their own goals and enhance communities. Through Connections, the students specifically worked with the Sturfels Youth Center, which provides a safe haven for boys and girls who have been arrested but who have not yet been convicted of a criminal offense.

When the professors were unable to choose a winner, they had Sam Lemheney — chief of shows and events for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS), director of the Philadelphia Flower Show and an alumnus of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) — pick the project to represent UD. He selected the project of the group that had worked with ACEER.

ACEER is committed to promoting conservation of the Amazon by fostering awareness, understanding, action and transformation, and in keeping with that theme, the UD group decided to highlight the plant life found in that region.

“We’re really going to try to highlight awareness and understanding of the conservation of the Amazon rainforest for the purpose of making sure that we have good access to medicinal plants over time,” said Bruck. “As the forest ecosystems are degraded and eventually lost through poor agricultural practiceswe lose an opportunity to study species and the way indigenous tribes use medicinal plants. The students were really interested in a ‘forest to pharmacy’ concept.”

Paige Gugerty, a senior organizational and community leadership major who is part of DART and is the teaching assistant for the class, said that the forest to pharmacy concept comes from the fact that “in the pharmaceutical industry, a lot of medications that we use, and even some potential cancer fighting drugs, come from plant compounds found in the Amazon. It’s really important to preserve the Amazon because of those plant compounds and the different medicinal and religious uses of what is found there.”

In addition to having an education display, the students were also interested in having a very exuberant, colorful exhibit. To do that, they had to select plants that are both educational and aesthetically pleasing.

To choose the plants for the show, two students — Gugerty and Elinor Brown, a junior in the College of Health Sciences — traveled to Florida in September 2014 with Lemheney to visit nurseries and tree farms.

The fact that Gugerty, a leadership major, and Brown, an exercise science major, were chosen to visit Florida to pick out the flowers speaks to the interdisciplinary nature of the course, something the professors stressed is important to the design process.

“We’re highly interested in crossing disciplines and we’re always trying to get different disciplines to work together to see each other’s perspectives and understand the strengths that each perspective brings that they might be overlooking,” said Middlebrooks. “So the flower show is a perfect opportunity because there are so many details to putting together an exhibit — from the initial exploration of ideas, to generating ideas, to the creative details and the logistics for getting it there, getting it set up, ordering materials, balancing the books, and everything else.”

For their part, the students were thrilled to be selected to travel to Florida.

“I was so grateful that Jules offered up that opportunity to us,” Gugerty said. “The fact that they sent two students was really awesome because neither one of us is from CANR, but we worked together and prepared for the trip and did a lot of our research up front so that when we got to the nurseries, we were able to look at what we wanted to look at and then come back and order pretty quickly.”

Brown added that it was nice to travel with Lemheney and another exhibitor at the flower show because “they have such a connection with people down there and they’re so close. It was really nice being with them and meeting their clients and establishing a connection with them that we can use for the next few years.”

Students prepare for the philadelphia flower show installation, 2015. Sydney Bruck paints laser cut wood plant labels.The students chose most of their flowers from Excelsa Gardens in Loxahatchee as they said Excelsa set the gold standard for nurseries and had a very accommodating staff.

The comprehensive plant list had around 450 plants in total and included bromeliads, gingers, banana palms, orchids, bananas and cocoa.

Cox, who conducted studies in Peru recently, will include in the display some masks and objects from his trip. There will also be baskets that indigenous Peruvians use to gather plants and berries in the exhibit, and ACEER is going to hand out samples of fair trade coffee and promote other fair trade products.

In addition to the plants, the display will also have little bottles hanging from the ceiling to represent the concept of running water, and a CD titled Sounds from the Peruvian Rain Forest will be played. There will also be art from Hillary Parker, an award winning botanic illustrator, with some of her paintings representing this area’s local native plants that have medicinal properties and were once used by indigenous North American peoples.

The theme of this year’s Philadelphia Flower Show is “Celebrate the Movies” and the hope is that people who visit the UD display will walk away knowing that they are in the director’s chair when it comes to conservation and that even though they aren’t in the Amazon, they can have an impact on rain forest conservation by supporting ACEER, buying sustainable products and even planting a forest garden of native plants in their back yards.

“What we want people to walk away with is that everything is connected and that our reliance on medicines derived from tropical plants reminds us to support education and research in products that help conserve and sustain these ecosystems,” said Bruck.

After the show, the plants will be sold at the University’s Ag Day, as most of the items — such as the orchids and the ferns — make for good house plants.

The exhibit is sponsored by PHS and the Hutton Fund, in memory of Richard J. Hutton.

Blake Meyers, chair of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences and the Edward F. and Elizabeth Goodman Rosenberg Professor of Plant and Soil Sciences, also contributed to the show.

Middlebrooks said that there is an open invitation to get involved with the project. “This is not a closed project in any way. We are very true to our spirit of creativity and innovation, and anyone who wants to bring their talents or even just their energy and enthusiasm to the group — students, staff, faculty — we’re open to all those kinds of collaborations.”

For those wishing to get involved with the project, contact MiddlebrooksBruck or Cox.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Lindsay Yeager and courtesy of Paige Gugerty

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Agriculture, natural resources ranked among highest paying degrees for 2015

According to a recent USA Today article, agriculture and natural resources ranks fifth among the college majors that will likely lead to the highest earnings for 2015 graduates. The others in the top five are, in order, engineering, computer science, math and sciences, and business.

According to the article, students who graduate with a degree in agriculture and natural resources will have a projected average starting salary of $51,220 and average lifetime earnings of $2.6 million. As is the case with other top majors, those who obtain management positions generally have the highest earnings over a lifetime — around $800,000 more than the typical college graduate.

The article drew from census data and an employer survey analysis conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

At the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), enrollment is up by (insert stats) and graduates are thriving in careers that are as diverse as they are interesting.

Notable CANR graduates

Mary Ellen Setting, who serves as deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Agriculture, studied entomology and applied ecology at CANR.

Setting said she had only a brief introduction to agriculture as a youth, visiting the King Street Farmers Market in Wilmington and through deliveries of fresh eggs, fruit and vegetables to her house by a local framer.

Other than that, Setting had very little background in the field when she chose to study entomology at UD.

“Coming to the University of Delaware in the entomology department, that’s really where I got my main introduction to agriculture,” said Setting, who majored in entomology and applied ecology, learning things like wildlife management and ornithology along the way.

Michael Balick graduated with an undergraduate degree in horticulture and plant science from CANR, focusing on ornamental horticultre and plant agriculture.

Through his degree, Balick spent 37 years traversing the globe and studying herbs with medicinal properties within indigenous cultures, co-founded the New York Botanical Garden’s Institute of Economic Botany with Sir Ghillean Prance, and received his doctorate in biology from Harvard University.

Balick currently serves as vice president for botanical science and director and philecology curator of the Institute of Economic Botany at the New York Botanical Garden.

Of his time at UD, Balick said he enjoyed spending time at Longwood Gardens with the Longwood Graduate Program and that he was given the freedom to explore the things in which he was interested, satisfying his curiosity about the different aspects of the plant world.

“Education for me at the University of Delaware was about identifying my passion and sailing in that direction with the encouragement of so many fine professors and a wonderful student body, to whom I am really grateful,” said Balick. “I’d encourage everyone to find something in life that they’re fascinated with and go full speed ahead in that direction because in the end it’s not a job you’re searching for, it’s a career, and it’s just so satisfying to work on something that brings excitement to you on a daily basis. I would say horticulture and agriculture and plant science allow you the freedom to do just that.”

Robin L. Talley received a bachelor of science degree with distinction and graduated cum laude in agricultural economics in 1984. She went on to receive her master of business administration degree from UD in 1996 and serves as the district director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency. She was the recipient of the 2013 George M. Worrilow Award, presented by the CANR Ag Alumni Association to those who have exhibited outstanding service to the field.

Rachel Acciacca is a Veterinary Corps officer in the U.S. Army and was an Honors Program student who studied animal science as a pre-veterinary major in CANR.

Acciacca said she enjoyed her time at UD, and said that CANR helped set her on the road to success. “The close-knit community at CANR was very supportive and encouraging,” she said. “I still remember individual professors who went out of their way to support me and prepare me for veterinary school. Everyone there was always so approachable, and I truly felt that they were dedicated to seeing me succeed.”

For any UD students currently interested in applying to veterinary school after graduation, Acciacca said, “Don’t ever doubt your ability to become a veterinarian — if you want it badly enough, you will make it happen. Work hard, seek out many different types of animal or veterinary-related experience you can, and keep your mind open. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a blast and I wouldn’t trade my job for anything.”

UD-led study suggests new pathway for phosphorous cycling in Chesapeake Bay

Deb Jaisi, CANR and his associate Sunendra Joshi work with:  1.	Silver phosphate, ultimate analyte for the phosphate oxygen isotope ratios measurement. Phosphorus from sediment is extracted, processed, and precipitated as silver phosphate.In the summer months, phosphorous cycling leads the center of the Chesapeake Bay to suffer from bottom water hypoxia — low levels of oxygen — which makes it hard for oxygen dependent organisms to survive. Conversely, this cycling also causes surface water eutrophication, which leads to phytoplankton blooms.

In a new paper published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, researchers from the University of Delaware and other institutions have identified for the first time organic matter remineralization as the predominant pathway for the phosphorous cycling that occurs in the Chesapeake.

The research, led by Sunendra Joshi, a doctoral student in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, includes UD’s Deb Jaisi, assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, and Donald Sparks, the S. Hallock du Pont Chair in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, Francis Alison Professor, director of the Delaware Environmental Institute (DENIN) and a leader of the University’s Environmental Soil Chemistry Group.

The UD scientists collaborated with David Burdige, professor and Eminent Scholar in the Department of Ocean, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Old Dominion University; Ravi Kukkadapu, a senior research scientist at the Environmental Molecular Science Laboratory (EMSL) at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory; and Mark Bowden, a scientist at EMSL.

Remineralization vs. remobilization

Remineralization is a cycling process that starts with the breaking down of organic matter, in this case phytoplankton blooms that take up phosphorous and live in top level waters that have undergone eutrophication.

When those phytoplankton die, they settle to the bottom of the body of water, break down and release phosphorous, causing hypoxia.

While some believe the dead zone in the center of the Chesapeake during the midsummer months can be attributed to nutrient remobilization — phosphorous entering from terrestrial or atmospheric sources, settling to the sediment and then again mobilizing to bottom water — this research suggests that the problem lies in organic matter remineralization, as it forms the predominant pathway for phosphorous cycling in this section of the bay.

“This remineralization process is more of a natural process of cycling and leans more toward a self-sustaining process than having direct phosphorous coming into the bay from the land,” said Jaisi. “That [remobilization] pathway is almost not there. It is very insignificant because the bulk of land driven phosphorus is buried in the sediment and is inactive. People used to think that that pathway is a significant pathway compared to remineralization, which is not the case. It’s the other way around, and that has a direct impact on how to control the nutrient issue in the bay.”

Seasonal event

The late spring, early summer months are the perfect time for the eutrophication process to begin as they follow the spring when the bay is fed by heavy water flows from the rivers, which bring a substantial amount of nutrients into the Chesapeake. In the early summer, the temperatures are right for organisms like phytoplankton to grow.

Burdige explained that, like every plant, phytoplankton requires several basic things in order to grow, including light, the correct temperature and nutrients.

“It’s similar to how you put fertilizer on your garden to make tomatoes grow, or your grass grow. Plankton need nitrogen and phosphorous,” said Burdige, who added that a spring phytoplankton bloom “is not dissimilar to what happens to your lawn. Your lawn dies in the winter and then, come around March or April, it starts to be green again.”

The phytoplankton contribute to phosphorous cycling because in summer months when they die, they break down and their remains sink to the bottom water and to the sediment column. The nutrients that the phytoplankton took up to form themselves in the first place regenerate and are returned to the bottom water to refuel the dead zone and may diffuse up to the surface water to feed a new generation of phytoplankton.

“So it is a recycling process, a process that reuses the same nutrient multiple times,” said Joshi.

Jaisi added that it is “an efficient system for microorganisms but a great pain for nutrient management.”

Sediment cores

In order to study the processes, the researchers extracted sediment cores from three sites in the Chesapeake — though their study only concentrated on the mid-bay portion — freeze dried them and analyzed the different phosphorous pools, taking the isotopic composition for those different pools and looking at what the isotope means and how the specific range of isotopic composition evolve.

According to the paper, this is the first natural environment where the preservation of the isotopic signature immediately after the remineralization of organic matter has been documented in the world.

“This can only happen under intense remineralization where the released phosphorus is too high to precipitate as a mineral instantly. The beauty of the isotope tool is that once the phosphate mineral precipitates, the isotopic composition is locked in and is now available for us to see what reactions and processes happened in the past,” said Jaisi.

The researchers looked at authigenic phosphorous pools — phosphorous that precipitates as a mineral — and iron oxide-bound phosphorous pools, which largely include phosphorus entering the bay from terrestrial sources and end up in the sediment.

The research showed that the iron oxide dissolution seems to be a minor source of the phosphorous in the area of the bay they studied. This means that a bulk of land driven phosphorus remains in sediment and is not active anymore.

Kukkadapu added that iron oxide bound phosphorus is not reactive as it is commonly anticipated, saying, “The small-particle iron oxides coated with organic matter and phosphorous in the uppermost layer of the sediment are surprisingly stable toward changes under anoxic conditions.”

In addition to looking at current sediments, they were also given historic sediment samples from past years in the Chesapeake thanks to Burdige, who has spent years studying the bay.

“Deb contacted me because he was looking for samples. We’ve done a lot of work in the bay over the years so we have a lot of frozen mud,” said Burdige, who pointed out that these historic sediments were studied to shine a light on legacy nutrients, those that enter the bay because of runoff but remain buried in sediment.

“If, for example, we figured out a way tomorrow to stop all inputs of excess nitrogen and phosphorous from human sources, there would still probably be a declining problem with excess nutrients in the bay because you’ve got this legacy reservoir that’s sitting on the bay floor,” said Burdige. “It’s sort of providing a new source of nutrients. It’s new today, so to speak, but it originally entered the bay 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 50 years ago. So it’s like rooting through your pantry to find a can of soup that you stashed away and forgot about.”

Analytical tools

By using a number of advanced state of the art analytical tools involving field sampling and laboratory work, and examining sediments all the way to the sub-atomic level, using Jaisi’s Environmental Biogeochemistry Laboratory to measure the phosphate oxygen isotopes, Sparks said that “one of the strengths of this work is that we’ve taken multiple approaches and really used some cutting edge techniques to try to get very precise information on the major source and what the cycling is due to.”

Sparks said that his group brought certain spectroscopic tools, collaborating with Bowden and Kukkadapu, who did the Mössbauer spectroscopy portion of the research at EMSL, and then “Deb had the isotope biogeochemistry expertise so it was a nice partnership.”

Burdige said that in a lot of ways, the result of the research is a testament to Jaisi and Joshi’s hard work “in making these difficult and challenging isotope measurements. From that perspective, they should be commended for their persistence and perseverance.”

The Soybean Boards of Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania provided major funding for this research, while the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Delaware EPSCoR also helped fund the research.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Kathy F. Atkinson and courtesy of Deb Jaisi

Images courtesy of Deb Jaisi

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD student uses genome annotation to help study crocodiles, alligators, gharials

Computer Science student Colin Kern is working with Carl Schmidt, Professor of Animal and Food Sciences and  Associate Professor of Biological Sciences, on using computers to locate the genes of crocodiles, alligators, and gharials.For the last year and a half, University of Delaware doctoral student Colin Kern has been annotating the genome of the American alligator, the salt water crocodile and the Indian gharial to help researchers from multiple institutions determine the ancestral patterns of evolution among archosaurs, which include crocodilians, dinosaurs and birds.

The results of this study were recently published in the American Association for the Advancement of Science journal Science.

Kern, who is studying in the Department of Computer and Information Sciences, worked on the project with Carl Schmidt, professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences, to try to identify where certain genes are located on the sequenced genomes of the three species.

There are two ways to try to determine the location of the genes, Kern said. The first is to predict where the genes are based on current knowledge and the ability to identify sequences of DNA that mark the start of a gene.

The second is to look at known genomic information from other species. “We know that all life evolves, and if you go back far enough, any two species will have a common ancestor,” Kern said, explaining that a researcher who finds a gene in a given animal and sees a very similar sequence in a genome just created can infer that it might be the same gene in the newly-studied animal.

Kern said that for each species, he looked for about 20-25,000 genes.

To comb through such massive amounts of data, Kern used two computer programs. The initial gene prediction was done using a program called Augustus and when it came time to assign a function or a name to the genes, he used a tool called the Basic Local Alignment Search Tool (BLAST), which is used to search for similar genes.

Kern said the researchers took the genes that they predicted from the crocodiles, and about which they were not certain, and ran the BLAST program in comparison to chickens to determine the similarities between the genes of the two species.

“We started with the chicken because birds are the most similar group of species to crocodiles, and chicken is probably the most well-studied bird,” said Kern. “We were able to assign a name — and along with a name comes the function of what those genes actually are — to a lot of the crocodile genes.”

Once the genes were identified at UD, Kern said the results were sent to researchers at other institutions to complete the study.

The results of the study show that the evolutionary rate of crocodilians is exceptionally slow.

For example, Kern said, even though the crocodile and alligator have been separate species for about 80 million years, “they’re more similar than comparing two mammal species that may have only split 20 million years ago.”

The data produced from the study, along with newly published bird genomes, also allowed the researchers to reconstruct the partial genome of the common ancestor of archosaurs, providing a tool to investigate the genetic starting material of crocodilians, birds and dinosaurs.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Lindsay Yeager and Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Agriculture and natural resources included in list of top 5 paying degrees for 2015

More and more people are earning college degrees. As of 2011, close to one out of every three people over 25 held a bachelor’s degree, according to a U.S. Census Bureau release. “As recently as 1998, fewer than one-quarter of people this age had this level of education.”

Because more of us are college-educated, this makes it so that “just any” degree will not necessarily suffice for some people anymore. People are starting to see that if they’re going to invest all of that hard-earned money, not to mention time and energy, into obtaining a degree, it should be into one that will likely lead to ample job opportunities and higher earnings power.

Click through to the full article on USA Today >>

UD students learn about interesting CANR programs

Students with undeclared majors meet CANR's Dean, Mark Rieger, and pot plants in Fischer Greenhouse.Twenty-three University of Delaware students visited the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) campus on Jan. 23 to create dish gardens at the Fischer Greenhouse, learn how ice cream is made at the UDairy Creamery and speak with CANR Dean Mark Rieger about the college’s class offerings and job opportunities for students who graduate with degrees in agriculture and natural resource related fields.

The students toured the CANR facilities as part of UD’s 2015 Study at Home program, which is funded by a Unidel grant and designed to emulate Winter Session study abroad experiences by highlighting exciting venues and activities both on and off the UD campus.

Christina King, Residence Life and Housing complex coordinator, said the program planned nine workshops and events, three of which were trips to Longwood Gardens, to Philadelphia and to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

“Study at Home is meant to be a series of events, workshops or trips that can in some ways mirror the experience a student could get if they went abroad, but on campus and in the local area,” said King. “Each trip has something to see and then a cultural meal or an activity that might take students out of their comfort zone.”

In addition to the CANR visit, the students also participated in other on-campus activities, such as a paint night, a yoga workshop, a tour of the University of Delaware Library Special Collections and an Asian cooking tutorial in Vita Nova’s kitchens with representatives of the Department of Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management (HRIM).

For their experience at CANR, students began with a tour of the Fischer Greenhouse, where they learned firsthand from Bill Bartz, greenhouse manager, about the facility and the plants grown there. They were then able to make festive dish gardens out of tropical houseplants and interact with Rieger, who was on hand to help out and answer any questions the students had about CANR.

One student was able to learn about the horses on the CANR farm as well as the equine science minor, while another asked about the UDairy Creamery’s new “Science of Ice Cream” course. Another was interested in Rieger’s sustainable and organic agriculture class that will be offered in the spring. 

After spending time at the Fischer Greenhouse, the students moved to the UDairy Creamery, where they were treated to some ice cream and finished their day with a tour led by Melinda Litvinas, creamery manager, and Jennifer Rodammer, supervisor at the facility.

Ariel Ramirez, a sophomore majoring in political science, said that — other than a stop at the popular UDairy Creamery — Study at Home was the first time he had visited the CANR campus and he found it very interesting.

“I think the greenhouse is amazing. I didn’t know this much went into it. I was really impressed,” he said.

Of the Study at Home program, Ramirez said that he participated in the paint night, visited the library’s Special Collections and participated in the trip to New York City. He has found the program beneficial and said he believes it should be carried on into the future.

“It’s really cool because you get to see all the culture and all the things UD has to offer, and all the opportunities that you might not get to see otherwise,” said Ramirez.

McKenzie Tsaousis, a freshman mechanical engineering major, said she really enjoyed her time at CANR and, like Ramirez, had never been inside any of the buildings on the CANR campus, although she had been at the site for ice cream and to see the cows.

Tsaousis said she is interested in taking the “Cow to Cone” class.

“I think that would be really interesting. I’ve milked a cow before, but obviously not thought about making ice cream, so I think it would be really cool — especially since I love the ice cream here — to get involved in the whole thing,” said Tsaousis.

Of the Study at Home program overall, Tsaousis said, “I absolutely love it. I’ve actually been to every single program. It’s a really awesome opportunity because I’m from Raleigh, North Carolina, so I haven’t been to a lot of the things that are up here. We went to Longwood Gardens and I’ve never been, so it’s really cool to expose yourself to all these different things.”

King said that throughout the experience, “The students have been delightful to work with. To see them do this has been very rewarding because it was very hard to plan and we weren’t sure if people were going to do it and it’s been great. The students have been wonderful and really enjoyed it.”

For more information on the Study at Home program, visit the Winter Session Learning Activities website.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Kathy F. Atkinson

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

10th annual Delaware Agriculture Week concludes with breakfast event

10th Agriculture Week wraps upThe 10th annual Delaware Agriculture Week, a celebration of an industry vital to the state’s economy, wrapped up on Jan. 16 with the Friends of Ag Breakfast.

This year, Delaware Agriculture Week — held Jan. 12-16 at the Delaware State Fairgrounds in Harrington — welcomed a record 2,085 visitors to learn best practices and new technologies, expand existing networks and make connections with leading vendors.

U.S. Rep. John Carney attended the Friends of Ag Breakfast, saying, “As Delaware’s largest industry, agriculture plays a central role in our state’s economy. Each year, Ag Week is a great opportunity for all those involved in Delaware’s agricultural industry to come together to share information and collaborate on new ways to support and strengthen agriculture in our state. I always look forward to attending events during Ag Week to discuss the challenges facing farmers and to find opportunities to grow Delaware’s economy through agriculture.”

Cara Cuite, associate research professor in the Department of Human Ecology at Rutgers University Cooperative Extension, was the keynote speaker at this year’s breakfast and discussed “GMO’s and Public Perception in the 21st Century.”

Cuite spoke about a survey on genetically modified foods that she and two Rutgers colleagues — William K. Hallman, professor and chair of the Department of Human Ecology, and Xenia Morin, associate dean and liaison for sponsored programs — conducted in fall 2013.

She began by explaining how people have been working to improve plant and animal species through techniques such as selective breeding and crossbreeding for much of human history.

“However, genetic engineering is different from this. Genetic engineering allows scientists to select specific genetic traits from one organism and insert them into the genetic code of another organism,” said Cuite.

The results of the survey found that for many people, opinions about genetically modified foods are not strongly held, and that many people base their opinions on feelings and that opinions change as they learn more specifics.

Cuite’s group concluded that how the genetic modifications are referenced — whether as GMOs, genetically modified foods, genetically engineered foods or agriculture biotechnology — makes a big difference in how people respond.

“We’ve done research that finds people respond differently to different terms. ‘Agriculture biotechnology’ people seem to like better than ‘genetic engineering,’ so it really matters what we call it. And we know that most of the world uses the term ‘genetic modification’ and uses ‘GMOs’ to describe the product of this process,” she said.

Cuite said the group found that out of all the terms, the one most frequently searched online was GMO.

“GMO is clearly what most people are thinking about and searching for when they are thinking about this issue,” said Cuite.

National award

At the breakfast, Dave Marvel, a grain and vegetable farmer from Harrington and the vice president of the Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association of Delaware, was recognized with the 2014 National Epsilon Sigma Phi Friend of Extension Award.

Susan Garey, a Delaware extension agent, presented Marvel with the award and talked about how he was instrumental in “working with UD Cooperative Extension to establish a Produce Food Safety (GAP/GHP) training program for Delaware growers and has helped us receive over $45,000 in grants to support Produce Food Safety programs.”

On receiving the award, Marvel thanked Cooperative Extension, saying, “Cooperative Extension touches our lives in a lot of ways that we don’t realize. When it comes to food, to health, to agriculture, to people, to animals and plants, Cooperative Extension plays a role in it to better the lives of Delawareans.”

About Delaware Agriculture Week

Delaware Agriculture Week provided numerous sessions that covered a wide array of topics including small fruits, fresh market and processing vegetables, small flock and commercial poultry, grain marketing, grain crops, hay and pasture, beef cattle, irrigation, direct marketing, and much more. Nutrient management, pesticide, and certified crop adviser continuing education credits were offered.

Agriculture is an $8 billion industry in Delaware, according to a 2010 University of Delaware report, which factored in the agriculture jobs and related production, goods and services that support the largest industry in the First State.

Delaware Agriculture Week is sponsored by University of Delaware Cooperative Extension, Delaware State University Cooperative Extension and the Delaware Department of Agriculture.

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Environmental concerns, awareness grow in South Wilmington community

Environmental concerns, awareness grow in South Wilmington communityAn interdisciplinary research team from the University of Delaware, which is working with Wilmington’s Southbridge community on environmental issues, has released results of a survey showing that more than half the residents have serious concerns about pollution and sea level rise.

The survey, which was administered at various community events in the South Wilmington neighborhood, found that 50.6 percent of residents who responded were greatly concerned about pollution and that about 59 percent described sea level rise as a very serious or extremely serious issue.

The low-income, largely African-American community of about 2,000 residents is the type of neighborhood that often is left out of discussions about topics such as sea level rise, said Victor Perez, assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice, who has been working with the team and local residents for about 18 months.

“Coastal communities with higher-priced homes are more often at the center of sea level rise concerns,” Perez said. “But it’s well documented that Southbridge is extremely vulnerable to sea level rise.”

Not only would much of the area be flooded if water levels rose significantly, he said, but Southbridge already has a large amount of pollution in its soil from industries such as tanneries and chemical companies once located there. The community, which is the oldest historically African-American neighborhood in the city, is south of the Christina River.

The UD research team is exploring the complex, interrelated issues involving sea level rise, environmental pollution and human health in Southbridge. The potential for sea level rise in the area is a pressing issue, Perez said, which is gaining more attention and awareness with the work of state agencies, as well as local organizations, community members and the researchers from the University’s Delaware Environmental Institute (DENIN).

The research team — made up of experts in soil chemistry, hydrology, engineering, economics and sociology — is attempting a novel interdisciplinary approach to study the potential for pollution in the soil to become mobile by way of projected sea level rise in the area. The approach seeks to integrate each respective discipline into the research design, complementing and informing each other, and has a strong community focus, Perez said.

Members of the team, led by Donald Sparks, S. Hallock du Pont Professor of Plant and Soil Sciences and DENIN director, also includes Kent Messer, associate professor of applied economics and statistics, and Holly Michael, associate professor of geological sciences, in addition to Perez.

Perez’s focus in working with residents is to determine their level of concern and awareness of sea level rise, flooding and pollution in the area, as well as the community’s perceptions of the health effects of their local environmental burdens.

The community’s battles with pollution are well known to many in the area, and residents have completed surveys and participated in focus groups. The research efforts are intended to also inform the community and will be reported back to residents on an ongoing basis, Perez said, noting that about 63 percent of those sampled reported knowing nothing to only a little about the specifics of sea level rise.

UD researchers also are creating a baseline of knowledge of the environmental burdens in the community by way of state reports, soil sampling and local community knowledge and experiences of these issues; this knowledge will continue to inform research approaches and policy recommendations for sea level rise and pollution mitigation and remediation.

The goal is to allow the community’s perspective to help inform the research approach, which considers the local knowledge of these issues vital to the success of the research, Perez said.

The research is funded by NSF-EPSCoR, the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, grant No. IIA-1301765, and the state of Delaware. EPSCoR is a federal grant program led by the National Science Foundation to help states develop their research capabilities and institutions.

More about the community

Though Southbridge struggles with environmental and health issues, unemployment and a level of poverty nearly four times that of the state’s, in recent years it has made significant gains in addressing these issues, Perez said. He gave these statistics:

  • From 2000 to 2010, South Wilmington saw a significant decline in unemployment, from 15.7 percent to 7.5 percent, though unemployment did return to 14 percent in 2012.
  • While South Wilmington’s high school graduate rate of 60 percent (of those 25 and older) was considerably less than that of the entire city of Wilmington in 2000, it has increased to 78 percent in 2012, nearly even with the city as a whole.
  • The percentage of households with a female head and no husband present has declined precipitously, from 50 percent in 2000 to 29 percent today.
  • Southbridge is now one of the safest communities in Wilmington, with low crime rates attributed to the efforts of generations of families living there and community police officers.
  • Southbridge is a well-organized community with a rich history and deep ties between citizens, and for the past six years, the community and service agencies have held a free, well-attended community event, “Southbridge Weekend,” every summer.

For more information on the community and its recent accomplishments, check out the links available on Perez’s website.

Community liaisons Stan Salaam and Rysheema Dixon, a 2009 College of Arts and Sciences graduate, contributed information to this article.

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD researchers study Arctic nesting sites of Atlantic brant geese

arctic fox makes off with brant eggLast summer, University of Delaware graduate student Clark Nissley and a team of three researchers studied the Atlantic brant goose in an area of the Arctic so remote that the only way to reach their camp was to fly in on a De Havilland Canada Twin Otter bush plane that had skis affixed to the bottom so that it could land on a sea ice runway.

Nissley and his team braved the Arctic’s freezing temperatures on Southampton Island in Canada’s north Hudson Bay to gain a better understanding of several factors that could have an impact on the declining population of the Atlantic brant, including where they nest for the summer and whether other geese species, whose populations are increasing, could be negatively impacting the brants’ nesting success.

The Atlantic brant population has been fluctuating and on a moderate decline for many years now and Nissley, a master’s degree student in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology, and Chris Williams, associate professor of wildlife ecology and Nissley’s adviser, are interested to learn if limitations during the summer breeding season have accelerated that trend.

Over the last several years, biologists have seen that in winter surveys of Atlantic brant in the Mid-Atlantic, there are few young in the population, indicating that something could be going drastically wrong for nesting brant on their Arctic breeding grounds.

The Atlantic brant have a lot of factors working against them. They are, Williams said, at an “evolutionary disadvantage compared to the other geese,” and that begins with their size.

While nesting in areas surrounding the upper Hudson Bay, the Atlantic brant have to compete with much larger geese — snow geese and cackling geese — for habitat and food.

And due to its size disadvantage, the brant arrives at its breeding grounds later than the other geese. While snow and cackling geese can build up fat reserves prior to making the trip north, enabling them to make fewer stops on the trip to the Arctic nesting site, the smaller brant have to stop along the way in order to feed and rebuild their fat stores.

The brant arrive at their nesting sites a week and a half later than the other geese and instead of being able to immediately start nesting, they have to feed again in order to rebuild their fat stores for egg production and as a result miss out on the prime nesting real estate.

“By arriving late, there is a possibility that prime nesting sites could have been taken and food resources could be degraded from all the other geese that have arrived. All of a sudden, there is a potential that the brant go into nesting at a disadvantage,” said Williams.

Spending several months at the East Bay Bird Sanctuary located on Southampton Island, Nissley said that he and the team tracked 44 Atlantic brant nests over an eight-mile area of land from the beginning of May to July.

The crew would begin their day at 4 a.m., waking up in the 24-hour daylight, and head out to conduct their research at 5. “Everything involved hiking so we’d hike a couple hours to get to whatever we needed to do, whether it was sit in a blind for a few hours to conduct goose behavioral surveys, do a vegetation survey or do nest searching,” said Nissley.

The researchers used blinds to research the behavior of the birds and did vegetative surveys at nest sites. In addition to the 44 brant nests, the crew located, marked and collected data on 530 cackling goose nests, 240 lesser snow goose nests and 50 Ross’s goose nests. They collected 100 measurements of vegetation at all 44 brant nests, 30 snow goose nests and 30 cackling goose nests to see how much of the habitat the geese share and look for trends to understand what sites are preferential to the brant and to the cackling geese.

The crew also placed time-lapse and motion-sensing cameras on the brant nests to identify the exact cause of failure for the majority of the nests.

Study ongoing since 1979

The research is being conducted in collaboration with Ken Abraham, an adjunct professor at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, and a longtime waterfowl biologist who first set up a camp at the location in 1979.

Nisei's research team in the arcticWith 35 years of data, it is clear how brant populations have changed. The first year, 455 brant nests were observed by Abraham but this past summer Nissley and his group observed only 44. And of those 44, only two were successful.

The 35-year data also shows how the habitat of the area has been degraded over time due to many factors, including the large number of snow and cackling geese in the area.

“When the brant show up to nest, they’re already looking at areas that 35 years ago were excellent nesting areas and now they’re maybe a few millimeter-high grass or bare dirt,” said Nissley. “We’re looking at areas where in 1979 there were 30 brant nesting in a 400 yard long stretch and now it’s just a dead zone as far as nesting habitat.”

Competitors

When it comes time for the brant to nest, Williams said that there is competition with the other birds and predators that could keep the population from nesting to its fullest capability.

Williams said that the other geese could pre-emptively eat available food resources or potentially be aggressive in interactions with the brant when it comes to food, which means there is the potential for brant to lose nutrition fitness for successful nest initiation, egg laying or personal health.

Brant build their nests and their energy reserves in order to lay eggs. During this period, the snow and cackling geese could act aggressively, pushing the brant off of the best nesting spots, which in turn could lead to a reduction in nest initiation.

Nissley said cackling geese seem to play more of a role than snow geese in pre-emptively excluding the brant from their preferred nest sites.

When the brant are forced to nest in lower quality sites due to competition, they are vulnerable to predators — Arctic foxes, herring gulls and parasitic jaegers — that prey on their nests during incubation or incubation breaks when the brant leave their nests to feed.

The predators are potentially drawn to the nesting areas because of the influx of snow and cackling geese. “These predators might normally only affect the brant in low levels, but if high densities of cackling geese or snow geese draw these predators in, then the brant may be suffering secondarily as a result of it,” said Nissley.

During observations last year, Nissley said that foxes were the largest threat to the brant, taking a number of eggs from their nests. Using time-lapse and motion-sensing cameras, the crew found that, “Out of the 42 failed brant nests, we were able to pinpoint what caused the failure for 28 of the nests, and 23 of those nests failed due to fox depredation.”

The research team is hoping to discover this summer if the high rate of fox disruption has anything to do with the cackling geese arriving first on the scene and taking the ideal nesting areas near deeper waters — where foxes have a harder time gaining access – and thus leaving the more accessible and low quality nesting areas to the brant.

Williams will spend a week in the Arctic this summer with Nissley as part of the study.

The research is funded by the Arctic Goose Joint Venture and the Polar Continental Shelf Program, which is a division of Natural Resources Canada.

Nissley has also received scholarships funds to help with the project from California Waterfowl through the Dennis Raveling Scholarship for Waterfowl Research and from Long Point Waterfowl through the Dave Ankney and the Sandi Johnson Waterfowl and Wetlands Graduate Research Scholarship.

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD’s Vargas part of United Nations publication on benefits of soil carbon

UD's Vargas part of United Nations publication on benefits of soil carbonThe University of Delaware’s Rodrigo Vargas is part of an international team of researchers who have identified advances on the benefits of soil carbon in an effort to address serious environmental challenges affecting millions of people around the globe.

Their findings were released on World Soil Day last month in Volume 71 of the United Nations’ Scientific Committee for Problems of the Environment (SCOPE) series titled “Soil Carbon: Science, Management and Policy for Multiple Benefits,” which was published by the intergovernmental scientific research organization CABI.

Dec. 5, 2014, was the first official World Soils Day designated by the U.N. General Assembly. The day was established to connect people with soils and demonstrate the critical importance of soils to everyday life.

It also served to announce 2015 as the International Year of Soils.

Vargas, assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, worked with a group of researchers coordinated by Steven Banwart of the University of Sheffield’s Department of Civil and Structural Engineering, Elke Noellemeyer of the National University of La Pampa Argentina and Eleanor Milne of Colorado State University and the University of Leicester, all of whom served as editors on the publication.

Vargas said the group met at the Joint Research Centre in Ispra, Italy, to discuss the benefits of soil carbon. The main goal of the volume was to summarize the importance of soils and the importance of the benefits of soil carbon, ranging from social and economic to biogeochemical benefits.

Vargas said he hopes the publication and the International Year of Soils will bring more awareness to the importance of soils and the problems that arise from soil degradation.

“Soils are a resource that we take for granted and that resource is being degraded and, unfortunately, is not being treated with the respect or the seriousness it deserves,” said Vargas. “Soil degradation is a serious problem. Soils are not only alive because of the biodiversity they hold or the biogeochemical reactions they have, but also they are beautiful entities.”

Vargas said the problem with soil degradation is that it is not as easily observed as an issue such as deforestation, where it is easy to see where trees have been wiped away. But while not as obvious to the naked eye, soil degradation is just as serious of a problem, he said.

“The degradation is less evident unless the problem gets so big that you have massive soil erosion. Then it becomes an evident problem that everyone can see,” he said. “The contamination of soils — for example, heavy metals in soils, excess nutrients in soils, over fertilization of soils — is linked to degradation and that is something that we wanted to highlight during World Soils Day and through 2015 as the International Year of Soils.”

The publication is divided into seven parts, with Vargas contributing to the second chapter of the first part titled “Soil Carbon: A Critical Natural Resource — Wide-Scale Goals, Urgent Actions.”

Vargas said the primary goal of the section is to show how soil carbon is a critical resource and an important soil conservation issue by highlighting how organic carbon intersects with five important topics: food security, energy security, climate security, water security and biodiversity security.

“These topics are directly linked with soil carbon but also they are linked among each other, so this chapter tries to highlight the interactions and the importance of the soil with current environmental security issues,” said Vargas.

The chapter also considers food production and long-term goals and short-term actions, highlighting how a key issue is that it takes a long time to increase soil carbon.

“Soil carbon is not going to increase in a matter of weeks or only within a year. It’s a process that will take time,” Vargas said. “Long-term goals for managing soil carbon are vital, but we also have to take short-term actions so that we have the ability to achieve the long-term goals. If we just delay everything, it’s hard to do that.”

Vargas noted that there are challenges on both the research and the implementation sides of the problem, especially with regard to how people interact with soils. “We need to create social consciousness about the value of soils so people will start taking more interest and responsibility in preserving and managing that resource,” said Vargas.

Vargas co-wrote the chapter along with Generose Nziguheba of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Nairobi, Kenya; Andre Bationo of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA); Helaina Black of the James Hutton Institute in the United Kingdom; Daniel E. Buschiazzo of the National Institute for Agronomic Research of Argentina (INTA) and National University of La Pampa, Argentina; Delphine de Brogniez of the European Commission Directorate General Joint Research Centre, Italy; Hans Joosten of the Institute of Botany and Landscape Ecology, Ernst Moritz Arndt University of Greifswald, Germany; Jerry Melillo of the Ecosystems Center, Marine Biological Laboratory, in Woods Hole, Massachusetts; Dan Richter, also of the Ecosystems Center; and Mette Termansen of the Department of Environmental Science, Aarhus University, Denmark.

This research builds on ongoing efforts by Vargas to improve the understanding of ecosystem carbon dynamics across North America sponsored by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Click here for more information on the International Rapid Assessment Project “Benefits of Soil Carbon” and SCOPE. 

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

10th annual Delaware Agriculture Week to be held at fairgrounds in Harrington

10th annual Delaware Agriculture Week setOver 1,900 agricultural producers will learn best practices and new technologies, expand existing networks and make connections with leading vendors during the 10th annual Delaware Agriculture Week to be held Monday to Friday, Jan. 12-16, at the Delaware State Fairgrounds in Harrington.

New sessions for 2015 include: “Agriculture Best Management Practices – Financing,” “Weathering These Changing Times,” “Soil Health” and “Growing Delaware’s Agriculture in Urban Communities.” All sessions are free, however some require preregistration.

Delaware Agriculture Week provides numerous sessions that cover a wide array of topics including small fruits, fresh market and processing vegetables, small flock and commercial poultry, grain marketing, grain crops, hay and pasture, beef cattle, irrigation, direct marketing, and much more. Nutrient management, pesticide, and certified crop adviser continuing education credits will be offered.

This year, Delaware Agriculture Week will begin on Monday evening with the fruit and beef sessions. The main meeting area will be located in the Exhibit Hall, and the trade show — with more than 80 exhibitors — will be housed in the Dover Building.

“Ag Week provides a great opportunity for the ag community to come together to learn new ways of doing things, catch up with friends, and talk with local experts,” said Cory Whaley, University of Delaware agriculture extension agent and Delaware Agriculture Week chair. “Our programs get better each year and we are very happy to be celebrating our 10th anniversary with the Delaware community.”

Agriculture is an $8 billion industry in Delaware, according to a 2010 University of Delaware report, which factored in the agriculture jobs and related production, goods and services that support the largest industry in the First State.

Delaware Agriculture Week is sponsored by University of Delaware Cooperative Extension, Delaware State University Cooperative Extension and the Delaware Department of Agriculture.

For more information, including an electronic version of the program booklet, visit the 2015 Delaware Agriculture Week website or call Karen Adams at 302-856-2585, ext. 540.

Center for Experimental and Applied Economics opens at Townsend Hall

Center for Experimental and Applied Economics opens at Townsend HallWhen Dean Mark Rieger arrived on the University of Delaware campus in 2012, one of his first priorities at the helm of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources was to establish a state-of-the-art research center for applied economics.

Roughly two years later, UD President Patrick Harker, Charles G. Riordan, deputy provost for research and scholarship, Kent Messer, Unidel Howard Cosgrove Chair for the Environment in the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics, and CANR faculty and staff were on hand to see the realization of Rieger’s vision at the opening of the Center for Experimental and Applied Economics (CEAE) held recently in Townsend Hall.

“Two years ago I knew we had the talent on campus that warranted a place of its own to house exciting research in applied economics,” said Rieger. “We just needed to find the space; it really pleases me that we’re here today to see that search come to fruition. We’re poised for future success through this great center.”

Dressed in personally embroidered white lab coats, 14 University officials, faculty members and undergraduate and graduate students, all with scissors in hand, cut the ceremonial ribbon, officially opening the center.

“I’m very happy to be here today because this event marks the culmination of a lot of hard work,” said Harker in his opening remarks to an audience of about 75 University members and special guests. “It’s centers like this that allow students to further their education while making the theory-to-practice connection.”

Some of the collaborative research efforts on display during the center’s opening included studies on improving water quality in the Northeast, research on oyster aquaculture in Delaware, and a study on cost-effective provision of ecosystem services through land conservation.

Located on the ground floor of Townsend Hall, the CEAE was formerly known as the Experimental Econ Lab and inhabited a very small area behind the CANR library.  The $300,000 remodel, funded in part by grants from the National Science Foundation, helped to expand the modest lab that had been established in 2007.

“Our old lab was windowless, small and basic. It could have easily been mistaken as a fallout shelter,” said Messer. “Dean Rieger made the commitment in 2012 to take our lab to the next level. What we have now will allow us to expand and enhance our activities and research.”

In addition to hosting research, the center will also serve as headquarters for the Center for Behavioral and Experimental Agri-Environmental Research (CBEAR), a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) consortium that partners UD with faculty at Georgia State University, Cornell University, the University of Chicago, Williams College, Albany State University, Ohio State University, the University of Rhode Island, the University of Tennessee and Tufts University.

A $750,000, three-year USDA grant was awarded to Messer and his collaborators at the aforementioned institutions, and will help fund the work of CEAE.

Dan Hellerstein, agricultural economist with USDA, was on hand direct from Washington, D.C., and stressed the importance of the opening of the center.

“This consortium of universities won the competition that we held for the $750,000 grant, because they had the best application that laid out their ideas to engage in evidence-based research,” said Hellerstein. “The purpose is to use their findings to create better agri-environmental policy for all those involved. Before, during and after each experiment and field study, these researchers will talk to USDA policy types to make the most out of this three-year partnership.”

Mike McGrath, assistant secretary of the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture, and CBEAR authority, said the center will help to improve USDA programs, both environmental and economical, and improve communication between the USDA and the farmers themselves.

“No matter what their product – livestock, grain, dairy, fruit and vegetables – farmers would be better served by more economical and environmentally conscious programs and methods,” McGrath said. “The goal of CBEAR is to research and develop those programs through the USDA and educate the farmers.”

Messer stated that CBEAR is essentially a “center within a center” as it pertains to CEAE, but further expanded on how the two will work together, saying, “Government programs related to agriculture and the environment need to be based on strong science and economics. Evidence-based policy, insights from the behavioral sciences, and randomized controlled trials are the norm in medicine, education, and other policy fields. CBEAR will bring this approach to U.S. agri-environmental policy.”

Article by Robert Kalesse

Photo by Lindsay Yeager

Santa Claus to make festive holiday stop at UDairy Creamery

Breakfast with Santa at Clayton Hall for alumni and kidsDuring this busy holiday season, Santa Claus will make a stop at the University of Delaware’s UDairy Creamery from 1-4 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 22.

Those who stop by on Monday will be able to meet and get their picture taken with Santa as well as try some of the creamery’s seasonal treats. Children under 12 years of age will also get a free scoop of ice cream.

New ice cream flavors available for the holidays at the UDairy Creamery include peppermint hot chocolate, eggnog, cherry macaroon, chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin cookie and peppermint bark. The creamery is also offering special holiday kits featuring everything needed for an ice cream party.

In addition to their ice cream, the creamery has ice cream sandwich cookie packs with different flavors included in each for $10 and seasonal ice cream pies available for $12.99. The flavors of pies include eggnog and sweet potato pie in graham crusts and peppermint hot chocolate and peppermint bark in Oreo crusts.

For those looking for last minute holiday presents, the UDairy Creamery is still offering Blue Hen Blankets, made from the wool shorn from UD’s flock of Dorset sheep at the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, as well as Dare to Bee honey from UD’s apiary and UDairy Creamery hats, shirts, toy cows and gift certificates that can be used at the creamery or the GoBabyGo! Café in the Health Sciences Complex at the Science, Technology and Advanced Research (STAR) Campus.

Photo by Doug Baker

New UD research center — ag policy meets economics

UD-CBEARA new research center opened up at the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources Monday. At the Center for Experimental and Applied Economics, scientists and economists will conduct studies on how consumers value ecosystem services.

Funded by a $750,000 federal grant, the center will serve as USDA’s headquarters for a research consortium called C-BEAR, which stands for the Center for Behavioral and Experimental Agri-Environmental Policy Research.

They’re focused on using behavioral economics to better understand and execute agri-environmental policy. The new center’s director Kent Messer says that means asking consumers what the dollar value they’d place on ecosystem services provided by, for example, natural flood barriers, pristine beaches or locally harvested oysters. The data is then used to communicate directly with farmers to improve facilitation of agricultural programs.

By Eli Chen

– See more at: http://www.wdde.org/70196-ud-opens-research-center#sthash.KLVM3yW3.dpuf

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