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

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.”

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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

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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

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