Purdue Agronomy Faculty Profiles

Grant​​ | Rainey​

Dr. Richard Grant

Please briefly describe your research.

I’m a professor of Applied Meteorology, in the Purdue Department of Agronomy. I get to solve problems that people bring to me, by applying meteorology to those problems. These problems typically relate to organisms in the environment, how the organism and the environment interact.

How did you get involved with that research?

Growing up, I was a Boy Scout. I hiked, camped, and was outside a lot.  I wanted to understand the environment that I was in. I wanted to understand the clouds and the plants - that really got my interest in the environment. It was fairly early on that I could see what I wanted to do. I really wanted to understand it. I didn’t want to just read about it. I was interested in research as a high school student. At a high school age I was wanting to be a professor.
I started out in plant ecology. As an ecologist I learned a lot about plants and plant chemistry. As I started to model, I found that the ecological models lacked realism in the plant/atmosphere/soil interface. I saw an opportunity and a need and chose to work in the physical and environmental interface to help fill in gaps that lacked this knowledge.

Describe how your research has changed over the years. What will it look like in five to ten years?

My field work started in forest meteorology, when I moved to the Midwest, agriculture was far more important for the area then forests. I shifted over in working with the agricultural systems in the environment. A canopy of corn is different than a forest canopy, but fundamentally similar.  I could use what I learned in the forestry setting and translate that knowledge to an agricultural systems. 
We looked at the climate within those canopy’s, how the canopy interacts with the environment. We also looked at organisms within the canopy, for example insects or materials that come out of the canopy- for instance pollen. How does that get influenced by the climate within the canopy, within the agricultural system?

As the environmentalist era came, I shifted my focus on how the environment was being influenced by agricultural systems. I started to look at things like ozone, organic materials coming off the crops, how sulfur dioxide increases the acidity of the rainfall and soils, how man’s activity and the development of urban areas influence the ozone levels and enhance the survivability and productivity of crops. I shifted into that area as the environmental emphasis became a strong aspect of what society was interested in.
From there, society became interested in climate change. The ozone hole was seen for the first time in the late 80’s. In 1990 I shifted a lot of my work from dealing with just air quality and environment to ultraviolet radiation associated with the ozone hole. Trying to understand the linkage between the atmospheric ozone and ultraviolet radiation and crops or people or animals and what the impacts are. 

What do you wish other people knew about your area of research?

Working at the interface of plants, animals, soils and the atmosphere, there is a great deal of opportunity for collaboration.  I think a lot of people work with these organisms as I used to, but they are not aware of the environment or the variability in the environment that influences what they are trying to understand about their soil, crop or animal production etc… I would like to help them understand that the environment and the variability is really important, and it can help explain processes that become variable in their experiments. Considering the energy, mass, and momentum transfers between the atmosphere and the biological environment, can greatly improve understanding of variability in plant and soil processes in the field.

What is a proud point in your career?

I’m not only a researcher, I am also a teacher. I manage the applied meteorology and climatology student undergraduate population, so I really get a charge out of seeing them graduate and head off into jobs.

What might someone be surprised to know about you?

I’m a president of a nonprofit organization, called Global Involvement Through Education. I do quite a bit of international travel to evaluate projects and visit offices that we have throughout North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia.

What do you do when you are not researching?

In my spare time I like to read and hike.​

Dr. Katy Rainey

Please briefly describe your position.

I teach undergraduate genetics in the summer and advanced plant breeding for graduate students. I advise students in the plant genetics breeding and biotechnology major. The rest of my time is spent advising graduate students on our research projects.

My research is focused on genetic improvement of soybean for economically valuable traits, primarily yield, yield-associated traits and yield components, and seed quality. As part of this, I work on yield prediction integrating genetic/genomic, phenotypic, and environmental data. I also work to improve accuracy and precision of phenotyping, including close-range remote sensing with Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS).

How did you get involved with that research?

I came to this career with more of an interest in plant science and genetics than agriculture per say. I’ve always loved genetics, plants and agriculture. So I found that studying plant breeding was a great fit for me. 

I’ve always been a researcher, I love intellectual creativity and freedom. I like the complex applied challenges that come with research. I am not as interested in basic biology type questions, but complex economically important questions, like how can we change the carbohydrate composition of soybean and what that means for feeding animals, what is my role as a breeder and how can I provide resources to other institutions and industry. 

I did not grow up on a farm, I grew up in the suburbs in East Tennessee. Members of my family farmed, but I did not have a lot of direct agriculture plant exposure. My mother and grandmothers all love horticulture, so I become interested in plants for that reason. I also liked genetics. My undergraduate degree is in botany. I perceived that if I went into plant breeding, I would have better opportunities and I found it interesting.

What do you wish other people knew about your area of research?

I wish other people knew that my work is primarily genetics. Sometimes people joke that I am obsessed with beans. What we do is fundamentally genetics in the lab and there is a lot of technology that we are using that isn’t seen. If you go to the field, it looks like a field of soybeans. There is so much behind that field in terms of millions of data points of genomic information, decades of elite germplasm development, several years of resources to help answer difficult questions, not to mention the advances that we are applying to statistical models. 

Describe how your research has changed over the years. What will it look like in five to ten years?

In some ways plant breeding uses the same methods as 100 years ago. There are basic elements, like how we plant the field, that don’t change. There is constant change in other ways, one of them is data integration. We are trying to integrate genomic data, climatic data, precision high throughput phenotyping data. It use to be that a person would specialize in one or the other and now we are able to integrate multiple streams of data and have more complex objectives as a result. I hope we get better at this in five to 10 years, where it is more automated and there are better pipelines and tools for data integration. My hope that we can predict yield as a result of this movement.

What is a proud point in your career?

Being hired at Purdue has allowed me to advance my research and work with awesome colleagues. I also enjoy seeing my graduate students be successful, complete their degree and get a job that they love. That has been my favorite part.
What might someone be surprised to know about you?

If I wasn’t a scientist, I would be a seamstress. I love to make clothes. I also enjoy human evolution, migration and ancient culture. This area uses genetic information, which I enjoy. 

What do you do when you are not working?

Taking walks with my 10 month old son Henry, playing Euro board games with my husband, or sewing garments for my family.