Ag Research Spotlight: Kevin Gibson
"I'm increasingly interested in how to involve farmers in research--how to bridge that gap between what we do in research and what folks can use." - Kevin Gibson, Professor of Botany and Plant Pathology
The Ag Research Spotlight shines each month on an individual whose work reflects our commitment to the six strategic themes that guide Agricultural Research at Purdue. Our spotlight for May 2015 underscores the theme, “Facilitating informed decision making to improve economic and social well-being.”
Kevin Gibson, like his father and grandfather, is an Army veteran. He was born in Chicago, but his father’s military career took the family to various U.S. states and to Germany. Kevin Gibson majored in biology at Indiana University and earned a master’s degree at San Diego State, where studying wetlands sparked interest in aquatic systems, specifically rice. He then chose the highly rated ecology program at the University of California–Davis, where his focus on rice production led to a keen interest in agriculture. After a year of postdoctoral research, he applied for an opening at Purdue. “One of the things I liked about Purdue when I interviewed is that the dean said I could follow my interests,” he says. “My interests are pretty diverse. I didn’t realize it as a child, but the military really does introduce you to many cultures and different viewpoints. Moving around a lot probably did create in me this interest in periodically moving on to new ideas and new projects.” He joined the faculty in 2001.
“I’m a plant ecologist who works on weed management in agricultural systems,” Gibson explains. His lab team works to develop weed management systems that increase crops’ competitive ability, reduce the need for herbicide inputs, and provide sustainable weed control in agronomic and vegetable crops. “The thing that ties all my work together is diversity,” he says. “It keeps me jumping from topic to topic, instead of focusing on a single topic for a long time.” In one current project involving six Indiana farms, for example, Gibson and his colleagues are exploring how biochar affects soil, yields and pest management. “We’re interested in what it can do on the farm,” he says. “But what’s really interesting is having farmers participate in designing and conducting the experiment.” An undergraduate assigned to each farm shadows the farmer and collects data. Gibson especially likes the synergy of putting research on working farms while giving students experience in farm research and exposure to actual farming.
SERVING FELLOW VETERANS
Gibson also is involved in a partnership with Extension educators and the Local Growers Guild aimed at helping new farmers, particularly veterans, make informed decisions in order to establish successful farms. This work provides a welcome opportunity to work with Indiana AgrAbility, part of a national, USDA-sponsored program that assists farmers, ranchers and other agricultural workers with disabilities.
“One of the things I wanted to do when I first arrived was contribute to increased cultural and ethnic diversity at Purdue,” Gibson says. He leads Purdue’s participation in the Sloan Indigenous Graduate program, a partnership of five universities that help American Indian and Alaska Native students succeed in graduate study in the STEM disciplines. In his spare time, he enjoys reading science fiction and cooking, and he’s determined to make time to renew his long-held interest in birdwatching.