AGRICULTURAL ECONOMICS, AGRONOMY, BOTANY AND PLANT PATHOLOGY, FOOD SCIENCE & FORESTRY AND NATURAL RESOURCES

The College of Agriculture names five new University Faculty Scholars

By: Emma Ea Ambrose

April 17, 2020

Karen Plaut, the Glenn W. Sample Dean of the College of Agriculture, recently announced five new University Faculty Scholars in the College of Agriculture, an appointment that recognizes sustained research success. These five members join the ranks of 16 agriculture professors named University Faculty Scholars.

“This distinction recognizes faculty members who are on an accelerated path for academic distinction through their research, entrepreneurship and the dissemination of that knowledge. Congratulations to this year’s five new scholars!” Plaut said.

Meet this year’s five University Faculty Scholar additions:

Anjali Iyer-Pascuzzi, Botany and Plant Pathology

Iyer-Pascuzzi’s researches how the roots of plants understand and respond to their environments. A main focus of her lab is the study of soil-borne pathogen Ralstonia solanacearum, which causes bacterial wilt in plants. Very little is known about how plants resist this pathogen, but through studying root cell types, root development stages and root architecture, Iyer-Pascuzzi is assembling a more comprehensive picture of the mechanisms plants use to fight Ralstonia solanacearum. While her lab works on this problem from the molecular to the organism level, the underlying goal of all research is to improve a plant’s ability to endure soil-borne pathogens and improve crop yields.

Anjali Iyer-Pascuzzi shares her expertise in a community gardening workshop.
Anjali Iyer-Pascuzzi shares her expertise in a community gardening workshop.

“I'm honored to be a University Faculty Scholar and proud to be part of a leading land-grant institution like Purdue. The College of Agriculture is an excellent place for research and teaching, and I'm grateful to be part of such a vibrant community,” Iyer-Pascuzzi said.

Zhao Ma

Zhao Ma, Forestry and Natural Resources

Ma’s research focuses on how individuals and institutions make decisions regarding conservation and resource management. Her research is highly interdisciplinary, drawing on political, ecological and psychological disciplines, asking how, within these different contexts, decisions about natural resources are made. How these decisions impact individuals, households, communities and landscapes is also at the heart of her research program. Currently, Ma is conducting several projects around the globe, including looking at how smallholder farmers adapt to climate change in China to how forest agencies are coping with it in the American West.

“This honor is a validation of what I have done, but it is also a reminder that I can’t stop and I need to do more,” Ma said. “I have already thought about how I can use the resource to send my graduate students to conferences and to sign myself up for a refresher statistics workshop.”

Katy Rainey conducts field work at the Agronomy Center for Research and Education Center (ACRE).

Katy Rainey, Agronomy

Generally, Rainey’s research focuses on how to improve crop yields of soybeans. Specifically, her work employs research from genetics, agronomy, economics and engineering to genetically improve soybean crops. Using cutting-edge technologies, like phenotyping, Rainey measures the productivity of certain soybean traits.  Rainey also investigates different ways to commodify soybeans to add value across the food chain. This involves, for example, finding methods to introduce soybeans into animal feed to improve the health of the animal.

“Professionally, this recognition means I can explore new interests, and my collaborators are also pleased with the recognition of our work,” Rainey said. “Personally, it’s nice to know the University is aware of my work and values it. Receiving the funds has become especially important with the uncertainties around Covid-19.”

Jake Ricker-Gilbert, Agricultural Economics

Ricker-Gilbert’s work centers on how to increase agricultural productivity for small-scale farmers in the developing world. The region of the world he currently focuses on is sub-Saharan Africa. In order to determine a region’s potential for productivity, Ricker-Gilbert first investigates the impact of subsidies, the landscape of farmland markets, the economics of smallholder farm households in a post-harvest climate and how smallholder farms adapt to the pressures of climate change. Ricker-Gilbert’s work is highly interdisciplinary and he has worked on a number of projects funded by The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, USAID and The World Bank.

Jacob E Ricker-Gilbert
Jacob E Ricker-Gilbert

“Being named University Faculty Scholar means a lot to me. I really appreciate the recognition and the related support will enable me to grow my research program even more in the future,” Ricker-Gilbert said.

Yuan Yao
Yuan Yao

Yuan Yao, Food Science

Yao was named a University Faculty Entrepreneurial Scholar, a new category of scholar that recognizes the innovative and commercial facets of faculty research.

In his lab, Yao combines fundamental research with technological development and breakthroughs. Much of his research is focused on the creation and characterization of novel carbohydrates and their potential applications. He studies the interactions between various food ingredients and develops value-added materials for the food industry. One material recently developed in Yao’s lab is the functional dendrimer-like polysaccharides (DLPs), which can be utilized to protect and deliver bioactive compounds in products ranging from antibacterial peptides, found in pharmaceuticals, to nutrients, found in everyday food products

“This acknowledges the impact of our research and encourages me to bring our work to the next level. I am always inspired by the opportunities of using science to address the real-world needs,” Yao said.

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