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Fall 2012
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Feature

The Fine Art of Research

Text: Krisy Gashler • Photos: Kent Loeffler & Jason Koski • Art Direction: Ellen Leventry ’95

CALS Faculty

Curiosity. Intuition. Creativity. Characteristics of a great artist and a great researcher. Science isn’t just statistics, surveys, and test tubes.

It’s about observing the world through a unique lens; unraveling complex challenges through artful inquiry and exploration. When the newest College of Agriculture and Life Sciences faculty members gathered at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art this summer, introductory small talk soon led to discussion of potential creative collaborations and newly discovered synergies. Representing 13 different departments, the work of these 19 original thinkers diversifies the already extraordinary portfolio of talent in the college.

Adrienne Roeder and Robin DandoAdrienne Roeder and Robin Dando

Adrienne Roeder

Plant Biology

Adrienne Roeder is fascinated by patterns in plant growth and the rules that regulate them. Seemingly identical cells take divergent paths to form petals, roots, or leaves. In leaves, some divide to form new cells while others just grow in to larger “giant cells.” How they coordinate this growth is still a mystery. Roeder, an assistant professor in plant biology, hopes that cracking the code will someday lead to breakthroughs in food and bioenergy. She uses computational morphodynamics, an approach that integrates microscopy, advanced image processing, and computer modeling, to develop, test, and refine hypotheses about the laws of plant growth.

Robin Dando

Food Science

Imagine a taste test: one plate contains your mom’s homemade lasagna, the other a restaurant-cooked dish made with exactly the same ingredients. Nobody would mix up the two, says Robin Dando, an assistant professor in food science. Dando was trained in physics, physiology, and neuroscience, and he plans to use the techniques and principles of those fields to refine our understanding of taste. He’ll be studying the signaling events and neurotransmitter interactions that occur between detection of a taste and our brain’s perception of that taste, and what makes it possible for us to recognize mom’s cooking anywhere.

Shanjun Li, Mingming Wu and Josh CerraShanjun Li, Mingming Wu and Josh Cerra

Shanjun Li

Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management

There’s a chicken and egg problem in the electric car industry: consumers are reluctant to buy electric cars because there aren’t enough charging stations, and investors don’t want to build charging stations because consumers don’t buy many electric cars. That’s just one of the eggs Shanjun Li is trying to crack. An assistant professor in the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, Li studies environmental and energy economics, from domestic and international cap-and-trade policies to consumer vehicle choices.

Mingming Wu

Biological and Environmental Engineering

How does a physicist engineer better micro-scale machines for cancer treatment and alternative energy? Study Mother Nature. Associate professor of biological and environmental engineering Mingming Wu was drawn to the field of biology by her admiration of the exquisite micro- and nano- scale machinery found in the natural world. For example, E. coli bacteria are only about one micrometer long—1/100th the width of a hair—but they can swim ten times their body length in one second, an engineering marvel. Wu will use biologically inspired engineering to develop micro-scale biosensors and pumps to solve critical health-related and environmental problems.

Josh Cerra

Landscape Architecture

Josh Cerra knows about integrating competing goals and interests. Cerra trained and worked as a biologist before pursuing a career in sustainable planning and environmental design. An assistant professor in landscape architecture, Cerra has practiced as an environmental designer and biologist for over 18 years, working on interdisciplinary teams to meet the needs of both human and natural systems. Cerra will be working with communities across New York to develop new methods for urban ecological planning and design, with the goal of direct benefits for citizens and the urban environment.

Katja PovedaKatja Poveda

Katja Poveda

Entomology

Generations of gardeners have known that you plant onions and garlic to deter deer. Turns out, the same principle works for bugs. Katja Poveda, an assistant professor in entomology, is working to reduce moth damage to potatoes in her native Colombia. Initial findings show that when farmers spray garlic pepper extracts to push insects away and plant another potato variety to pull the bugs in, that’s as effective as spraying insecticide on the primary crop. This type of “push-pull” system for managing insects has been used successfully in Africa for years. Poveda hopes Africa’s model will work for Colombia and, in the future, for New York.

Sharon Poczter and Julio GiordanoSharon Poczter and Julio Giordano

Sharon Poczter

Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management

In the past 60 years, there have been 120 financial crises around the globe. Sharon Poczter ’01 was surprised by their similarities. An assistant professor in the Dyson School, Poczter studies crises in emerging markets and sees a common pattern: the massive deregulation of credit and subsequent risky over-borrowing by households and businesses followed by a crisis trigger. Poczter is distilling these lessons into strategies to avoid future crises, not only by regulation of the financial industry, but through awareness and accountability from every investor.

Julio Giordano

animal science

As the grandchild of two dairy farmers, Julio Giordano has been working with cows since before he could walk. An assistant professor of animal science, he studies the physiological mechanisms and management practices that limit reproductive success in cows, including nutrition, genetics, and animal welfare. Giordano will also help dairy farmers make better-informed economic decisions. Free online tools he developed allow farmers to enter farm-specific data and compare their current operation against a proposed change. He believes that continued advances in reproductive management, paired with economically savvy decision support tools, can keep New York dairy farms in the black.

Jacob Bien and Ludmilla AristildeJacob Bien and Ludmilla Aristilde

Jacob Bien

biological statistics and computational biology

What do a genome map, a complex linguistic analysis, and a Google search have in common? Statistics. Jacob Bien, an assistant professor in biological statistics and computational biology, develops statistical methods that allow other scientists to make sense of enormous datasets. For example, 20 years ago biologists often collected ten variables about a group of people. Now they routinely collect 10,000. Increasingly complex datasets require increasingly sophisticated methods to extract the useful information. Bien’s work will help facilitate cutting-edge research in medicine, computing, or just about any area that involves large quantities of data.

Ludmilla Aristilde

Biological and Environmental Engineering

Ludmilla Aristilde‘03 knows firsthand about environmental pollution. As a child in Haiti, she witnessed people around her sickened with cholera. Now, as an assistant professor in biological and environmental engineering, she wonders what happens to the synthetic chemicals, pharmaceuticals, hormones, pesticides, and natural toxins present in the environment. What interactions occur in different types of soils, how do they degrade or persist, and what are the potential effects on sensitive organisms? Aristilde’s work directly addresses Cornell’s land grant obligation to farmers, but it benefits all who value safe food and clean water.

Matt Ryan

Crop and Soil Sciences

For Matt Ryan, an assistant professor in crop and soil sciences, it all started with weeds. With a farmer’s heart and a scientist’s eye, Ryan set out to help address one of the biggest obstacles facing organic farmers—weed management without herbicides. He quickly learned, however, that weeds are part of the delicate web that makes up a cropping system, and focusing exclusively on one component of the system can have unintended consequences on other factors, like soil fertility and insect pest populations. Ryan’s holistic approach draws from half a dozen disciplines and emphasizes practical, sustainable problem solving.

Matt Ryan, Thomas Oles and Robert D. ReedMatt Ryan, Thomas Oles and Robert D. Reed

Thomas Oles

Landscape Architecture

How do we build sustainable communities when laws are based on private property rights, but land-use decisions have landscape-wide—even global—consequences? Thomas Oles, an assistant professor in landscape architecture, focuses on processes of political deliberation that can transcend the limitations of a segmented landscape. Do you think a wind turbine is an eyesore or an environmental asset? Oles’ research indicates that your answer may be influenced by whether it was brought there by a local energy cooperative or a big energy company. His approach to community design and planning draws upon the core principle of inclusive participation, from start to finish.

Robert D. Reed

Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Everyone appreciates the beauty of a butterfly’s wings. Robert Reed can tell you what functions the wings serve in the natural world, what pigments and structures make up the colors, and which genes are mutating to alter color patterns within populations. An associate professor in ecology and evolutionary biology, Reed’s lab uses everything from tropical field ecology to computational genomics to understand how and why insects evolve into so many bizarre and splendid variations. Butterflies in particular have both beauty and brains—they’re an ideal species to use in studying new technologies in environmental science, agriculture, and even medicine.

Rachel Bezner Kerr

Development Sociology

Reducing malnutrition in southern and eastern Africa isn’t just about crop yields. Rachel Bezner Kerr, Ph.D. ‘06, an assistant professor in development sociology, has found that soil health, social inequality, and even HIV/AIDS status can impact whether people are getting enough to eat. For the past 12 years, she was the research coordinator for the Soils, Food and Healthy Communities Project in Malawi, working with academics, medical professionals, and more than 4,000 farmers working toward the goals of healthier soils, stronger children, and sustainable communities. Her research in the sociology of food systems will help identify the societal contributions to—and solutions for—hunger.

Rachel Bezner Kerr, Arnab Basu and Joshua WoodardRachel Bezner Kerr, Arnab Basu and Joshua Woodard

Arnab Basu

Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management

Growing up in India, Arnab Basu experienced how the economic development theory he was learning in his classroom played out in the real world. A professor of international economics, Basu uses economics as a lens to study a host of topics, including minimum wage laws, consumers’ willingness to pay higher prices for eco-labeled and Fair Trade products, and international aid disbursement after natural disasters. He also studies the intersections of law, economics, and conflict. As globalization impacts more and more people around the world, Basu’s work will help inform policy decisions affecting millions.

Joshua Woodard

Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management

From the frost damage affecting this year’s apple crop to the summer drought that decimated corn yields, managing risk is as important to production agriculture as managing weeds. Joshua Woodard, an assistant professor of agricultural business and finance in the Dyson School, focuses on risk management, including crop insurance, weather risk, credit risk, and commodity crops. Presently, the federal government is putting an increased emphasis on crop insurance and other risk-management programs. This changing policy focus—coupled with increased price volatility and climate risk—makes understanding risk management more important than ever.

C. Lindsay Anderson

Biological and Environmental Engineering

Lindsay Anderson works with moving targets. Not just with the wind energy she wants to help harvest more effectively, but with rapidly evolving technology, changing policy, and fickle markets. An assistant professor in biological and environmental engineering, Anderson is working to integrate renewable energy into existing energy markets. With a background in engineering and financial mathematics, Anderson’s projects address both the use of technology to store wind power and the market forces needed to release it. She’s poised to overcome some of the bumps in the road to a sustainable, renewable energy future.

C. Lindsay Anderson, Adam Bogdanove and Jonathon SchuldtC. Lindsay Anderson, Adam Bogdanove and Jonathon Schuldt

Adam Bogdanove

Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology

Adam Bogdanove started with an important question: How to combat pathogens that devastate rice crops? His work is now being used to solve an array of challenging problems. Bogdanove, a professor in plant pathology and plant-microbe biology, discovered how bacterial proteins called TAL effectors bind to specific locations in plant DNA. That knowledge is allowing scientists to target and modify genomic sequences in various organisms. Applications range from studying gene function, to human gene therapy, to improving livestock and crops with greater precision and predictability than traditional genetic engineering. Bogdanove’s work has already resulted in disease-resistant rice; scientists are hopeful that solutions to human genetic disorders such as cystic fibrosis are not far behind.

Jonathon Schuldt

communication

What’s in a word? Assistant professor of communication Jonathon Schuldt ’04 knows their power in shaping public opinion. He was the lead author of a study which found that people were more skeptical of “global warming” than of “climate change.” (See 'Vote' article) Schuldt’s interests lie at the intersection of psychology, communication, and science. As issues such as global climate change, natural gas drilling, obesity, and health care reform increasingly impact New York, he’ll be tracking the dynamics that underlie public opinion.

The Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art
A Special Thank You

This feature was shot at the The Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, an I. M. Pei & Partners building. As part of Cornell’s land grant mission, the Johnson continually seeks to fulfill its cultural and educational responsibility to serve a broad and diverse audience. The museum is open to all without charge. The permanent collection numbers more than 35,000 works, spanning six millennia and encompassing art from most world cultures. Among the strengths of the collection are the holdings of Asian art; more than 22,000 prints, drawings, and photographs ranging from the fifteenth century to the present; modern and contemporary painting and sculpture; European art from ancient times to the present, African sculpture and textiles, and pre-Columbian sculpture and ceramics.

For more information on the latest exhibits, visit museum.cornell.edu.


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