Coding: A necessity for engineering

Dec 5
Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering

Daniela Markazi, ABE student, shares her #ACESstory!

Inventive, curious, and pragmatic - these are all terms used to describe engineers. Engineers are known for applying math, science, and practical knowledge in order to innovate, design, and invent. Although the application of math and science is key, it is becoming blatantly obvious that coding is quickly changing into a necessity for engineering. 

Everyone uses devices that have to be computer programmed in their daily lives. For most, the first thing they do when they wake up is check their phones. Phones need to be programmed. They might also get on their computer or use a tablet to check their emails. These, too, need to be programmed. Later in the day, they may want to drive somewhere using their car. Most cars have been programmed as well. 

In the field of agricultural and biological engineering, agriculture is changing, and big data is moving into agriculture. Sensors are now being used on fields in order to retrieve detailed information on water availability, manure requirements, wind, and other crop information. Drones are helping patrol fields; precision agriculture is being implemented. Data analytics are being used to determine the best crops to plant in different areas with profit and sustainability in mind. 

With all of these new technological advances happening in agriculture, there is a higher need for agricultural and biological engineers to learn how to code. Unlike most of my peers, I have coded throughout high school and know multiple coding languages. Therefore, with the help of Dr. Kaustubh Bhalerao, a professor who does research in bioinformatics, we created the course, Mobile and Web Development for Agricultural and Biological Engineers. Through this course, I am able to teach students how to code in Swift, the programming language developed by Apple Inc. in order to make applications for Apple products. 

By taking this course, students learn all the basics of computer coding. Many start off without knowing any coding prior, and by the end of the course, they are able to make their own applications. Students are able to learn how to code, and they are able to realize that it truly is a necessity for engineering. 

‘Tis the Season for Holiday Weight Gain?

Dec 4
Justine Karduck, Director of the Didactic Program in Dietetics

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” as first sung by Andy Williams in 1963.  Although you may agree or disagree, the holidays have officially begun and that means just as the song says, “There’ll be parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting, etc.”   Is weight gain over the holiday season inevitable?  Do you feel compelled to eat every holiday treat offered to you at the office party, friends or family gatherings, or just because ‘tis the season? 

Many believe that adults gain anywhere from 5 to 10 pounds over the holidays however no published research supports these beliefs.  In a 2017 review of the literature by Diaz-Zavala et al. found that adults gain an average of 1 to 2 pounds during the six weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years.1   The same amount of weight gain was reported in those trying to prevent weight gain by self-monitoring.  In general, those who were overweight or obese gained more weight, up to 5 pounds, compared to those of normal weight status.2  Those that participate in regular physical activity had less holiday weight gain than those who do not exercise at all.  In another study in 2016, researchers studied holiday weight gain in three countries; the US, Germany, and Japan.2  They found that although up to half of the holiday weight gain is lost shortly after the holidays, half the weight gain appears to remain until the summer months or beyond. 

Although there is not extensive research available on holiday weight gain, there are some strategies to prevent holiday weight gain.  Roberta Duyff, Registered Dietitian, College of ACES Alumni, and Author of the bestselling Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Complete Food and Nutrition Guide has several ideas for preventing holiday weight gain:

Plan ahead.  Balance eating at parties with other meals and snacks.  Eat smaller, lower-calorie meals and snacks throughout the day so you can enjoy celebration foods too.

Take the edge off hunger beforehand.  Eat a small lower calorie snack that is high in fiber and protein.  Check out the “Smart Snacks” handout from McKinley Health Center for some fresh ideas:

Conversations are calorie free!  Focus on mingling and enjoying the company before rushing off to eat or drink.

Ask for sparkling water instead of high-calorie drinks.  Sparkling water has no calories compared to wine with 120 calories per 5 oz. glass or eggnog with 460 calories per 1 cup.

Start out with lower calorie appetizers such as raw veggies with dip, cocktail shrimp, and fresh fruits.  Go easy on the fried foods, heavy dips, and cheese cubes. 

Limit yourself to one trip or one plate at the holiday buffet.  Be selective choosing only the foods you really want to eat and keeping the portions small.  Do not waste your calories on foods you can have every day like chips, crackers, slices of bread, etc. 

Do not socialize right next to the buffet, which encourages unconscious nibbling.

Bring a healthy dish to the party to share with all. If you are hosting, swap out high fat, high-calorie traditional dishes with lower calorie makeovers that still taste delicious.

Limit yourself to one-a-day.  That is one-a-day small serving of a sweet or treat per day.  Allowing yourself a one-a-day will help you stay in control while still getting to enjoy your favorite holiday treats.

Do not forget to move it.  Make a time and plan for exercise before or after your holiday party.  Better yet, make physical activity part of your holiday gathering by having a dance party competition.  Mall walking, ice-skating, sledding, or even try a free, online home workout for fun winter physical activity. 


1. Díaz-Zavala RG, Castro-Cantú MF, Valencia ME, Álvarez-Hernández G, Haby MM, Esparza-Romero J. Effect of the Holiday Season on Weight Gain: A Narrative Review. Journal of Obesity. 2017;2017:2085136. doi:10.1155/2017/2085136.

2. Cunningham E. What's the Latest on Holiday Weight Gain?. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2013;113(11):1576. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2013.09.007.

3.  Helander E, Wansink B, Chieh A. Weight Gain over the Holidays in Three Countries. New England Journal of Medicine. 2016;375(12):1200-1202. doi:10.1056/nejmc1602012.

4. Duyff R. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Complete Food and Nutrition Guide. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 2017.



Experience can be taught, adaptability cannot

Dec 1
Nicole Chance, Sophomore in Agricultural Communications

When you’re sitting in an interview and the interviewee asks you, “Why should we select you compared to another candidate that has more experience than you?” how do you respond?

It’s a valid question, that for you freshman, sophomores and juniors searching for internships, or even seniors on the job hunt out there may be intimidated to answer.

To be honest, that was me. Whenever I was asked that question I thought to myself, “you know maybe I’m not qualified enough for this position,” filling my head with the deceiving lie I wasn’t good enough to tackle a new challenge. But looking back on it, and all of the amazing opportunities I have had during my time at U of I, I know now exactly how I would answer that question.

Every job experience I’ve held, I have walked into with little to no knowledge of how to be successful in that role. But one thing I did enter that job role with that I believe a large majority of our generation lacks, is the passion and desire to learn to succeed and go above and beyond the challenge.

You see the point of applying for jobs and internships is to gain experience, not to already know everything you need to know. What would be the point in that?

See the point I think that everyone misses (including employers) is how you adapt when something new is thrown your way. I think that is a defining factor of how a person will act in the work environment, overcome adversity and succeed as a member that can add value to a company’s goals. You may have all the experience in the world, but if you are unable to adapt when a new task is assigned to you or thrown your way, it poses the looming question if you have what it takes to be successful?

So next time you’re in an interview and that question is asked; now you can confidently answer that experience can be taught, but adaptability cannot!

Academia and industry come together at the University of Illinois Research Park

Nov 28
Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering

Scott Dixon, ABE alumnus, shares his #ACESstory!

When I finished my Master’s degrees in Agricultural and Biological Engineering in 2006, I felt passionate about the next phase of my life. This next phase was focused on a position I had accepted with Caterpillar Inc. in the engineering rotation development program, where I was set to start building my professional experience with a great Fortune 50 company. 

My first ten years with Caterpillar were predominantly spent collecting data in various capacities. In construction and mining equipment, the data was used in the testing, validation, and design areas of new product development. We also plugged into machines and recorded sensor values such as engine speed, fluid temperatures, and other performance metrics that helped engineers better understand the inside workings of complex systems.

I really didn’t think during this time that my professional career path would bring me back to Champaign/Urbana, but when I saw an opportunity emerge which could return me to land of Orange and Blue, I jumped at it. This new opportunity was in the fast growing area commonly called the Internet of Things (IoT).  

A large portion of IoT is focused on connecting assets (fixed and mobile) to improve the efficiency of industrial systems such as simplified fleet management, precision agriculture, and remote failure detection. Many teams and large corporations are attempting to apply the same data collection and analysis performed for decades in focused and localized testing and field trials across populations of 10,000’s, 100,000’s or even millions of machines (things). 

This is where the UIUC Research Park has a strategic advantage to take a lead position in IoT by blending many of the strengths from the Colleges of ACES and Engineering.  Since IoT is focused on driving efficiency across a wide variety of things, it is critical that skills such as coding, database architecture, and web development come together with specific areas of study such as machinery design, agronomy, and agricultural economics. It is at this intersection where the interesting developments are being made both in academia and industry. 

The Research Park is an ideal environment to grow capability in IoT, harnessing the strength of a world class institution with a vibrant and growing collection of over 100 companies already hard at work building the technology of tomorrow.  The Research Park also holds opportunity no matter your current connection to Illinois.

Students have access to exciting companies where they can work part-time during their studies making a competitive wage, building their resume, and getting their foot in the door. (Students, check out the Research Park Job Board  to see if any of the opportunities catch your eye.)  For faculty and staff who have an entrepreneurial itch to scratch, EnterpriseWorks provides cost effective office space and a great startup environment to grow and commercialize ideas. Last but not least, industry needs access to the leaders of tomorrow, and there are few better places to be than the Research Park, where you can hire students part-time during the school year, participate in capstone design projects, and engage in world-class research.  

The Research Park is proving to be a local and state engine for growth, and I am excited to play a small role in what looks to be a very bright future. 

Scott Dixon is an ABE alumnus, a member of the ABE External Advisory Committee, and the senior analytics project leader in Analytics Innovation & Services for Caterpillar

Diverse department finds solutions for diverse problems

Nov 28
Jeff Brawn, Head, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences

When asked to describe the Department of Natural Resource and Environmental Sciences (NRES), I often respond, "If NRES had a department color, it would be plaid." I say this because our programs include an unusually wide spectrum of disciplines and educational opportunities with a faculty of applied ecologists, soil and water scientists, and environmental social scientists. 

Why does the department have such a mix? The answer is easy. We mirror the complexity and multifaceted nature of today's environmental problems. These problems range in scope from the possible effects of global climate change on agricultural production to the restoration of local prairies in Champaign County to the effectiveness to conservation spending in preserving tropical forests.

Growing demands on land and water resources require an interdisciplinary approach in the field, at the lab bench, and in the classroom. Moreover, technological advances are allowing NRES scientists and students to gather information and data that were formerly just a dream. Examples include studies where invasive species are detected by looking for their DNA in the environment and crop productivity models that are data rich and highly accurate with the use of remotely sensed satellite data. 

NRES also recognizes that people matter in the practice of environmental science and the conservation of natural resources. A biologist can study an endangered species or threatened ecosystem and come up with a well-reasoned conservation plan; however, the prospects for this plan will be far brighter with input from stakeholders and local communities.

Accordingly, NRES has a strong program in environmental social science – a discipline that includes political science, psychology sociology, and economics. As stated to me once by a long-time Illinois environmental expert, "Effective conservation and environmental science is 10% biology and 90% people." A great example of this is a core principle of sustainable agriculture (also a major program in NRES) that regularly engages farmers, consumers, and business-community groups. 

The undergraduate curriculum and educational programs in NRES closely adhere to the complexity of today's environmental problems. Through coursework, undergraduate research, and study abroad opportunities, we seek to provide students with a skill set that prepares them for a wide range of employment and post-graduate educational opportunities. 

The ACES Gym

Nov 27
David Gerstenecker, ACES Director of Information Technology

I realize that Campus Rec Center East, aka CRCE, is a University building. But I like to think of it as another ACES building.

I just returned from exercising over lunch. On any given day that I am there, I will likely chat with a department head, an associate or an assistant dean, an alumnus of the college, or a current ACES professor or student.

I am very thankful that CRCE is only a short walk from my office in Bevier Hall. I am able to get my heart pumping for a healthier me – AND I get to enjoy the comradery of exercising with my ACES family.

Stop by for a visit sometime. If you see me running around the track or swimming in the pool, be sure to say “Hi” and chat for a bit.

10 things for which 4-H members give thanks

Nov 22
Judy Mae Bingman, 4-H Media & Marketing

We asked 4-H members and leaders the things for which they were thankful. Their answers make us smile during this time of Thanksgiving.

1. Life Skills

Take your pick which skill you most attribute to your 4-H experience. Public speaking. Organization. Time Management. Teamwork. Problem solving. Recordkeeping. Teachers and employers say they can pick out employees with 4-H experience just by their work ethic and personal integrity. 4-H did that, or so our members say. More than anything else, 4-H empowers and prepares young people for a life of success. "Thank you, 4-H, for teaching me integrity, patience, and the value of hard work." –Renae Spannagel, Camarge Champs 4-H of Moultri-Douglas 4-H. Age 18.

2. Joyful Living

Oh, it was expressed in many different ways, but the bottom line is, 4-H makes people happy. Through their accomplishments, 4-H members believe in themselves. They build bonds of friendship which last a lifetime. They travel to new, exciting places. They spend time together as a family. They laugh, a lot. "Thank you, 4-H, for giving me joy." –Quentin Meredith, Watseka Wild Clovers 4-H of Iroquois County, Age 11.

3. Caring Leaders

We never forget them. 4-H leaders are like second parents who may not tell you to clean your room, but will hound you to finish your record book. More than 15,000 adults assist with the Illinois 4-H program each year. Some come for a year; others stay for a lifetime. "Thank you, 4-H, for all the volunteers who work to put on activities and workshops and help with projects. Thank you to my former leader, Eleanor Markwell, who has volunteered for over 50 years! She inspired me to become a leader." –Angela Zellers, Morriah Go-Getters 4-H of Clark County. Adult.

4. Paths That Lead to Better Futures

4-H is a safe place for youth to explore and discover. We know that 17 percent of 4-H members already have a career related to their project when they graduate from high school. "Thank you, 4-H, for helping me develop the skillsets to prepare me for a job and for college. Thank you for your scholarship generosity. Thank you for building tomorrow's leaders." –Michelle Gorrell, Triple T 4-H of Clark County. Age 19.

5. Compassion

4-H clubs create opportunities for youth to practice service. In the rush of daily living, we sometimes get so busy doing for ourselves; we forget to do for others. 4-H forces us to stop and intentionally commit to service projects so that a generous spirit becomes our true nature. Research shows that 4-H members are four times more liking to be involved in their communities than their peers. "Thank you, 4-H, for showing me that there is always a way to make a difference." –Katy Beaber, Liberty 4-H of Bureau County. Age 13.

6. Exploration

Exploration takes courage, and 4-H builds confidences which allow youth to step out into the unknown. Whether it's trying a new project or traveling away from home for the first time, 4-H instills an adventurous nature in members who feel supported by caring leaders and staff. "Thank you, 4-H, for helping me express my personal style and helping me find what I'm good at." –Liz Reardanz, Woodworth Kountry Klovers of Iroquois County. Age 12.

7. Friendships and family

4-H is all about relationships. In 4-H, boys and girls learn together, and families are welcome at every gathering. The hard work of showing at the fair doesn't seem so bad when your friends are all there with you. Shared interests create lifelong bonds of friendship. Winning is good, but seeing friends win is even better. 4-H members know the best part of the day isn't receiving the championship trophy, but helping an 8-year-old reach their goal. "Thank you for being so nice and being a second family to me." –Sophie Barnhart, MCML 4-H of Union County. Age 9

8. Responsibility

Nothing teaches responsibility like getting up at 6 a.m. every morning to feed livestock or being in charge of a 4-H field trip. 4-H members know that if they don't do their work, no one else will. It begins with simple tasks, such as bringing refreshments or welcoming visitors. Over time, the tasks get harder and the consequences for failing grow. Employers want workers who complete tasks and are responsible for the consequences. "Thank you, 4-H, for teaching me to never give up!" –Autumn Dottie, Guilford Gainers 4-H of Winnebago County. Age 12.

9. Solid Foundations

4-H is built on the solid foundation of research-based information which local staff turn into hands-on learning activities. No here-today, gone-tomorrow fads. No tricks. No fake news, only rock-solid information you can trust from people you trust. Our foundation is the research of University of Illinois College of ACES. "Thank you, 4-H, for helping me learn new skills and discover new interests." –Kaitlin Udelhofen, Leroy Commandoes 4-H of Boone County, Age 16.

10. Traditions

4-H feels like home. Once you pledge your head to clearer thinking and your heart to greater loyalty, you enter a family 6 million strong. You understand what it means to live each day making the best in you better. "Thank you for parents that encouraged me to join 4-H and the many years of being a 4-H Family." –Georgia Green, Atlanta Town & Country 4-H Club of Logan County, Age 76 and 45 years as a leader.

4-H changes people.

"Thank you, 4-H, for making me a better me." – Alicyn Olson, Liberty 4-H of Bureau County. Age 18.

"Thank you, 4-H, for teaching me to be fair, strong, and not self-centered." –Grace Stapf, Prairie Kids 4-H of Piatt County. Age 13.

"Thank you, 4-H, for helping me learn about my mistakes from my projects." –Audri Green, Prairie Pals 4-H of Crawford County. Age 9.

"Thank you, 4-H, for teaching me to do stuff without complaining." –Karli Yotter, Bunker Hill Livewires 4-H of Macoupin County. Age 13.

"4-H can lead you to the stars. I was a 10-year 4-Her. I am a contract manager for Boeing. My project is the space mission going to Mars. Never did I think my aerospace project would actually lead me to Mars." – Bill Hallett, Liberty Hill Rangers 4-H of Cumberland County. Adult.

Thankful Note

Eye of the beholder

Nov 14
Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering

Chad Yagow, ABE alumnus, shares his #ACESstory!

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, or that’s what they say. When you look at this picture, what do you see? Maybe the green hood of a tractor? Maybe a tilled corn field? Maybe blue sky and strips of brown and tan? 

Look closer. I see the beauty that lies in opportunity. I see specs of mud and dirt and a windshield wiper obscuring my view and an opportunity for glass coating technology that would repel dirt and water. I see an untilled draw and an opportunity for variable rate tillage to control the amount of crop residue left on the soil surface based on soil type and topography. I see a green field in a fall landscape and the opportunity for using cover crops to stop soil loss and retain nutrients and moisture. 

In short, I see opportunity for agronomists, soil scientists, and agricultural and biological engineers to work together to solve the biggest problems our farmers face, today and in the future, to sustainably feed, clothe, and shelter the people of the world. 

So as you drive through the fall landscape, maybe on your way back and forth from celebrating the bounties we have at Thanksgiving, ask yourself what beauty you behold through your eyes…

Chad Yagow is an ABE alumnus, an ex officio member of the ABE External Advisory Committee, and the manager of Agronomy Planning and Partnering for John Deere Technology Innovation Center.

The True College Experience: The Pursuit of Undergraduate Research

Nov 7
Lauren Quinn, ACES Media Specialist

My undergraduate research experience at the University of Montana was the starting point on my path toward a Ph.D. in invasive plant biology. I spent many long hours in the field and the lab, learning basic skills that would serve me well throughout my research career.

When I think about the 12 majors available in the college, it seems undergraduate students in ACES have almost limitless opportunities to get involved in research. Whether or not they go on to pursue graduate degrees in their chosen field, those students will be well prepared for whatever lies ahead.

Today’s guest blogger, Tanvi Majumdar, a sophomore in NRES and recipient of an ACES Undergraduate Research Scholarship, tells her #ACESstory.  

The True College Experience: The Pursuit of Undergraduate Research

By Tanvi Majumdar, Sophomore in NRES

In August of 2016, two packed suitcases sat in a corner of my room for three weeks; I was slightly prematurely ready for my first 11-hour drive from Maryland to Urbana-Champaign. I went into my freshman year knowing two things: I would be in the College of ACES, and I wanted to get involved in research. Even though I had spent an unreasonable amount of time fantasizing about college, it turned out that I, like every other bright-eyed freshman, had very little idea about what my college experience would truly be.

 Over the past semester of my sophomore year, I have finally come to certain revelations about what it means to be in the College of ACES and to be involved in research. I went into ACES simply because I wanted to pursue environmental sciences, but once you begin to delve into the ACES treasure trove, it is evident that the college has much more to offer, often attracting the envy of my friends in other colleges. Most importantly for my aspirations, ACES has encouraged and supported me in my quest to participate in research through its Undergraduate Research Scholarship Program.

This semester, I began working in Dr. Sarah Refi Hind’s lab in the Department of Crop Sciences. Working in her lab has been the highly involved, engaging research experience I had fantasized about. Dr. Hind’s lab is studying Xanthomonas bacteria, which inflict bacterial spot disease on tomato plants. Since non-motile strains of the bacteria go undetected by tomato plants, my project in the lab concerns evaluating the relationship between Xanthomonas motility and mutations in the protein (flagellin) composing the appendage (flagellum) that enables bacterial movement.

To fund some more expensive aspects of this project (involving protein analysis and microscopy) I applied for the ACES Undergraduate Research Scholarship. I earned a small but significant grant of $1,500, with additional funds for travelling to conferences and publication fees. With the support of this grant, I look forward to evaluating my hypotheses and potentially publishing my results in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

This research is one of the most enriching and fulfilling, yet challenging, experiences of my short life. It took some time to adjust to being so hands-on in the lab and to realize that each step of the process is not as easy as it seems in theory. However, troubleshooting has become part of the excitement, and with each step forward, my motivation only grows. I have learned a lot, and there is a lot left to learn, but there is no greater satisfaction than trying to solve a real-world mystery. I intend to continue conducting research in this lab, and it will undoubtedly be interesting to see where this project takes me next. More importantly, I encourage others to not only get involved in research but to also explore opportunities in ACES. I am exactly where I want to be right now, and nothing is more rewarding than that.

The True College Experience: The Pursuit of Undergraduate Research

Working around Mother Nature

Nov 6
Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering

ABE student, Anne Reardon, shares her #ACESstory!

How can agricultural and biological engineers help when parts of our country are affected by natural disasters? This fall, Hurricane Harvey devastated the southern US, causing billions of dollars of damage to communities.   The news covered the hurricane extensively, but the enormous damages caused to the agriculture industry were less publicized.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, about 1.2 million beef cows were in the disaster region of Hurricane Harvey.  Hundreds were drowned in the flooding, and even surviving cattle have health problems from stress, not eating for days and standing in water for long periods of time.  Loss of livestock, the cost of medicine, and replacement fees for structures and farm equipment took a huge financial toll on farmers. 

The cotton crop was also predicted to be the best yield in years before Harvey damaged at least one fifth ($135 million) of the crop.  In addition, rice can’t be harvested because the fields are still too wet to bring in machinery.  And these are just a few of the problems that Hurricane Harvey caused! This devastation is a prime example of how uncontrollable events can completely disrupt the systems we have built. 

So how can we help? Let’s build more adaptable systems!  Let’s design machines that work in wetter conditions.  Let’s continue developing new technologies such as vertical farming, hydroponics, or other indoor farming methods so food production isn’t affected by flooding or heavy rain.  Let’s join biological engineers crafting synthetic meat in labs to ensure food security regardless of the cattle supply and genetically modifying crops to be able to grow in greater water levels. 

Developing and embracing new technologies will be powerful tools to combat food insecurity due to natural disasters in the future, which is exactly why agricultural and biological engineering is so important.  We need to ensure that we can feed the world regardless of the challenges Mother Nature has in store.