How do you save your best moments?

Feb 26
Lucas Neira, Animal Sciences graduate student

I realized early in life the importance of saving memories. I grew up seeing my dad gather old pictures from people who lived in our small town (Taquaral, Sao Paulo, Brazil) and writing their stories, with the intention of sharing someday. He did a great job even though he was a bricklayer who only finished elementary school.

Years later, he built a collection of almost 50 framed photographs, sharing the history of our town as no one had ever done before. At the same time, I started to think about how I could save the amazing moments from my life that I was living to share with others in the future. That’s when I began to take more pictures and discovered my passion.

As a veterinarian working in one of the wildest and most beautiful places of Brazil (Pantanal region), my passion found a room to travel with me. I got more involved in taking pictures, preserving memories of my experiences with nature, cowboys and horses, and driving and dealing with cattle. It ended up that my passion helped me to work towards my purpose -- to show how great and important our agriculture industry is throughout the world.

So today my message is very simple: take pictures as often as you can. Save memories of your parents, your kids, your buddies, and your partner. Do not miss the opportunity to eternalize a moment and create a unique memory. I lost my dad, but I took amazing pictures and recorded some videos that today make me happy even when living thousands of miles away from home.

Mind Evolution

Feb 23
Ariel Majewski, ACES Marketing Intern & junior in journalism with a minor in music

I didn’t know what to expect when I first attended the Monsanto movie night, featuring the Food Evolution film. Looking up the documentary quickly beforehand, I expected the debate to cover both arguments about the usage of GMOs. And I was very curious to hear what the Monsanto panelists had to say...because nobody had ever explained this to me before.

They say there are only two ways to possibly view this issue: you’re either for or against GMOs. But that has never described me, because I never formulated a solid opinion. Whenever that three-syllable word dropped in class, I would hear instant mutters of disgust or see heads nodding in approval. There was this instant connotation associated with the concept, and you almost felt pressured into taking a polarized stance. But there was no substantial discussion that followed--no in-depth reasoning as to how each crop was being modified to overcome a specific circumstance, the types of studies conducted to assess their side effects on mankind, the evaluation of how accurate those studies were in the first place….and so while I felt guilty about not having a stance, how could I possibly make such a one-sided decision? You’re not supposed to compare apples to oranges, so why should I make a black and white conclusion that all GMOs are good/bad for all food groups?

My mom always cautioned me about the possible side effects of genetically modified food, so I naturally shop for organic items at Target. But to be honest, my instinctive habit to look for the non-GMO label wasn’t driven by my own reasoning--rather the fear of disobeying someone who was my role model in every aspect of my life, especially nutrition.

So taking all of this into consideration during the film, I learned some major points:

The first takeaway is that those who support and those who are against GMOs all want the same thing: growing more food to feed the growing population, and reducing the amount of chemicals and pesticides. It may be easy to forget that while debating argument after argument, but we truly agree on the most simplified factors of what we believe is best for the world.

The second concept is what I’ve been building up this entire time--there is so much information about this subject, but many studies and statistics that are creating major emotional responses and backlash for GMOs have no substantial evidence backing them. What we end up with is lack of communication about what GMOs are. Both parties need to discuss with one another and understand what information they’re lacking. Scientists need to reach out and find more ways to articulate what they’re specifically doing. Maybe they can create vlogs as they’re working, showing viewers what they are doing step by step, for instance. At the same time, those who do not genetically engineer food need to understand that research is always going to be a major component in understanding GMOs. That doesn’t mean skimming over articles that brief over the pros and cons without attributing evidence or sources’ credentials. It means reaching out to the science community and giving suggestions that you think would best help your understanding. It means finding opportunities to attend debates or conferences where you get the opportunity to speak with scientists about your concerns. Get as many scientific opinions as you can and know the credentials of those sources. Contact employees from various GMO corporations. Ask clients and partners their thoughts of these corporations. The more connections you make, the more angles of an issue you’ll know.

I definitely have a better understanding of GMOs produced in our society now. I see the benefits as we try to create food for seven billion people with limited resources, natural disasters, mutating viruses, and more pesticide-tolerating insects. On the other hand, because I am not a scientist and do not watch over scientists conducting their procedures, I will naturally have fear and skepticism whether certain companies are producing genetically modified organisms in the way they are intended. Good advancements in technology can always be used in harmful ways or for one’s specific self-interest. But that doesn’t mean technology itself will disappear. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, roughly 90 percent of corn, soybeans, and cotton are genetically engineered--GMOs are as prominent as ever. Crops will be modified in some way. But if you take the time to network yourself into a community, the processes and people involved become much more familiar and less of an ambiguous and intimidating concept.

Monsanto panelists Dave Shenaut, Ken Dalenberg, and Courtney Walker confirmed these points from the film, but what I admired most were their actions during the film. Courtney Walker was taking notes the entire time, scribbling thoughts, reflections, and new takeaways. Here is someone who worked as district sales manager for Monsanto, and was still taking notes to better understand the different angles of GMOs. That shows how being open-minded about learning both sides of an issue can help all of us come to better resolutions.

All in all, I highly recommend you watch the movie and do what Courtney did--just take notes and challenge yourself to view the other party’s perspective.

Happy researching.


Your invitation to Wings & Wisdom

Feb 19
Judy Mae Bingman, 4-H Media & Marketing

I spent a lot of time watching my kids do this and that in school. Sing. Run. Hit a ball. Toot a horn. And, they spent a lot of time in the crowd watching me do my 4-H thing.

No matter how many kids were doing the same thing as my kid, my focus was zeroed in on my kid, and they knew it. I was there to watch them.

Once, Jenny and I decided we would both sing in the annual hometown Messiah production. It wasn’t until we walked out on the stage that we realized there was no one in the crowd watching just us. Sure, there were people there, but no one was there JUST to see us. It changed the experience for us.

Humans crave affection. As Brene Brown, author and research professor at the University of Houston wrote, “A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We become numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.”

4-H clubs create that much-needed sense of belonging for young adults. Youth are supported by their fellow club members and caring adults. At 4-H, there’s someone in the crowd who is focused just on you, who is there to watch you, and who is invested in your success.

That support doesn’t end at college. Collegiate 4-H can be that next level of support and encouragement for you. Join us for our next meeting, Wings & Wisdom, at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 28 at 1101 S. Goodwin Ave. in Urbana. Nothing says “you belong” like Buffalo Wild Wings and good friends.

Today, more than ever, we need to remind each other that we are not alone, that we matter, and that someone cares.


Farewells and gratitude

Feb 13
Stephanie Henry, ACES Media Specialist

You never forget who gave you your first “big break.”

About 5 years ago, I was juggling freelance writing and editing work—copyediting textbooks at night, writing and taking photos for a newspaper, and doing science writing for another college on campus. Freelance work was great and it gave me some freedom while raising my two sons. But I was starting to feel the pull to be a little more part of a team, to work together with an organization to communicate great stories. I wanted to stop juggling, and really belong somewhere. My boys were getting older, and the time seemed right.

And then I got a call from Debra Levey Larson from ACES. She was familiar with some of my science writing, and she was looking for a writer to join ACES’ News and Public Affairs team.

Debra was with the College of ACES for many years (nearly 18, this year) in a variety of roles. She was a writer and editor, and oftentimes the narrator’s voice in videos for the college.  She covered every ACES department during her time in the college.

As the team leader for what was then the News and Public Affairs team, Debra encouraged me as a writer and a communicator. She challenged me to take on my beats as my own, to get to know the researchers whose research I was writing about and to find the best stories.  She, like me, was dedicated to journalistic science reporting. We often talked through story ideas or ideas for publications, and provided feedback to each other on photos we took for the stories we were writing.

She was nothing less than a mentor to me as I was learning my way.

A few weeks ago, we bid farewell and congratulations to Debra as she moved on to a new role in another college.  I am grateful that she gave me a chance to become part of the team in ACES years ago. And I am glad to continue to have her as a communications colleague at U of I and as a friend.

Food gets better at the university farms

Feb 9
Lauren Quinn, ACES Media Specialist

Last week, I had a chance to ride along with Rodney Johnson, head of the Department of Animal Sciences, on a visit to the beef farm. I’ve worked with Dr. Johnson on news stories about his research, which relates to brain health and often uses the pig as a model system. As a neuroscientist whose research mostly takes place in labs, he doesn’t strike me as a very farm-y guy. But he grew up on a farm and thought for sure he was going to end up back there after college. Johnson clearly pursued a different path, but he likes to tell his family that, as head of the animal sciences department, he’s now in charge of a beef farm, a dairy farm, a swine farm, a poultry farm, and on and on.

It was my first time on any of the university animal farms, and it was impressive. The herd was large and healthy, and I got to meet one-day-old-calves! More than anything, it really sunk in that ACES students have the opportunity to do hands-on work in state-of-the-art facilities that mimic real-world conditions. And the research that goes on in those facilities leads to recommendations that farmers and industry stakeholders use every day to produce better, healthier food for you and your family. It all starts here, on our farms.

I can’t wait for my next tour.


It’s a Family Thing

Feb 5
Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering

By Kara Brockamp, junior in ABE

On campus I hear all the time that the sense of community in the College of ACES is strong and that it feels like family. Walk into any office, administrative or academic, and there’s a good chance that someone there will know you by name. At the very least, new faces are greeted with a friendly smile and a “how can we help?” Even Dean Kidwell is all in for this sense of oneness. A quick search of her Twitter account yielded about fifty tweets referencing “family” or “community” since she returned to Illinois in the fall of 2016. But for me in the College of ACES and, in particular, the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, “family” reaches a whole new level.

The ABE department stands well on its own with top-ranked programs at a Big Ten university. However, the extra little push I needed to enroll in ABE as a freshman came from my dad, Dale. He earned his bachelor’s degree in agriculture engineering in 1989, so orange and blue ran through my veins from an early age. I have very fond memories of coming to Explore ACES, Engineering Open House, and countless football and basketball games when I was little. As it turns out, my twin brother Alex must have liked the trips to Champaign-Urbana too, because he also decided to attend the University of Illinois… in agricultural and biological engineering!

One of the top questions Alex and I are asked is, “What’s it like to be a twin?” So far, the best response we have come up with is something along the lines of “What’s it like to not be a twin?” But in all seriousness, it is odd to think about life as a singleton. We attended the same small high school and, due to the size, we usually had the same class schedule. So in an effort to not branch out too much (ha!) at this marvelous, storied institution of 44,000 students and 5,000+ courses, when we got to college we planned most of our classes together. And it has worked out well for both of us. Since we are in different specializations, we still get time to dive into our separate interests and likely will not work together professionally beyond college. For now, he’s my competitor, study buddy, friend, and so much more all rolled into one!

It’s easy for the ABE department to feel like family. After all, the average incoming class size for an ABE major is about 40 students and for TSM it’s about 45. You take the same classes at first and, with the help of Anne Marie Boone’s selected sections of university-wide courses like chemistry and calculus, you really do spend a lot of time with your departmental classmates. Many of the relationships I’ve made here will stick with me for a lifetime. I am so thankful for the support system I have in my biological family and in my family-by-choice through the ABE department and the College of ACES.


BSL 2 lab aids ABE graduate research students

Jan 22
Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering

By Nora Onstad

[Nora Onstad is a graduate student in Soil and Water Resources Engineering in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering]

With an increasing global population and urbanization, food and water safety is a growing concern. As a graduate student in agricultural and biological engineering at Illinois, I have access to a unique resource that will tackle these problems from an engineering perspective.

I work with Paul Davidson, a professor in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering. Prof. Davidson recently set up a biological contaminants lab space in the Agricultural Engineering Sciences Building. The space was certified this summer as a biosafety level 2 (BSL 2) lab. In a BSL 2 lab, personnel can handle pathogenic (capable of causing disease) material of moderate potential hazard to personnel and the environment. Currently the lab contains two biosafety cabinets, a chemical fume hood, a centrifuge and an incubator.

Along with Mathew Miller, a senior in ABE, I am currently studying how Cyclospora moves in the environment. Cyclospora is an emerging food safety pathogen and has been the cause of disease outbreaks on fresh produce imported to the U.S. in recent years.

This past summer, we collected water, soil, and wildlife scat from combined sewage outfall (CSO) locations in the Chicagoland area. CSOs are used in some older, combined wastewater and storm water systems to manage water when there is too much rain flowing into storm drains. When there is too much water for the wastewater treatment plants, some of the mixture of untreated sewage and rainwater is discharged into streams. The human waste could potentially transmit human pathogens into the environment. This study is a basic step to understand the environmental spread of these pathogens.

In the fall semester, we started evaluating how much Cyclospora adheres to soil particles, which involves filling small test tubes with soil and adding Cyclospora, then allowing time for the organism to stick to the soil.

I believe our preliminary work will help guide future research to prevent food contamination. Grant proposals for future pathogen research have been submitted. As the new BSL2 lab space grows, it will provide support for multiple research projects. 

A New Path to Cleaner Skies? Jet Fuel from Sugarcane

Jan 17
Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering

By Deepak Kumar

[Deepak Kumar is a post-doctoral research associate in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering.]

U.S. airlines consumed about 18 billion gallons of jet fuel in 2016. Globalization, increased population, and improved international trades have increased air travel, and subsequently energy use in the aviation sector. 

Bio-jet fuel derived from oil crops or algae is a promising alternative to fossil jet fuel and considered to produce significantly less greenhouse gas emissions.  Hydro-processing technologies to convert plant-derived oil to jet fuel are at an advanced stage of development, and the American Society for Testing and Materials has approved a 50:50 blend of petroleum-based jet fuel and hydro-processed renewable jet fuel use. However, high feedstock cost and challenges of low oil yields per land unit is a major obstacle in the growth of an industry producing biofuel derived from oil crops. 

To address this issue, a multi-institutional team, led by University of Illinois researchers, has successfully engineered sugarcane, called lipid-cane, to produce large quantities of oil (up to 20 percent) in stem and leaves. Naturally, sugarcane contains only about 0.05 percent oil. As sugarcane is the most productive crop on the planet, this technology has opened the way to the production of far more industrial vegetable oil per land unit than previously possible. 

A process technology to separate sugar and oil from lipid-cane has already been developed and patented by the University of Illinois. To understand the commercial viability of jet fuel production from this engineered sugarcane, we performed a comprehensive techno-economic analysis to establish a capital and operating cost profile of the process at commercial scale. We developed process models for a bio-refinery producing hydro-treated jet fuel (from lipids) and ethanol (from sugars) from lipid-cane, in SuperPro designer. The production cost of jet fuel for 20 percent lipid-cane was estimated at $2.59 per gallon of jet fuel, lower than most other oil crops and algae. 

According to our analysis, lipid-cane with 20 percent lipids could produce 1,666 gallons of jet fuel per hectare of land, which is more than 15 times that from using soybean. Other than lower costs and high yields, use of lipid-cane instead of conventional oil crops provides an advantage of energy self-sustainability. The steam and electricity produced from the burning of cane bagasse (fiber left after juice extraction) were found sufficient to fulfill plant requirements. The surplus electricity could be sold back to the grid that displaces fossil electricity and provides environmental benefits.

Along with altering sugarcane metabolism to accumulate lipids, the project team is also trying to develop this crop with increased cold tolerance and high photosynthetic efficiency, which would allow additional biomass production and use of low-value land unsuited to most other crops. 

In conclusion, lipid-cane is a promising new feedstock that can be used to produce economically competitive and large quantities of bio jet fuel to replace fossil fuels, enhance the nation’s energy security and reduce environmental impacts. 

This project (PETROSS) was funded through the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA‑E).


Life Lessons to Apply for the New Year

Jan 9
Debra Korte, Teaching Assistant Professor, Agricultural Education

I can vividly remember the phone conversation I had with a close friend on the final day of November. After several complaints and rants of frustration about a series of events that occurred, I told her “I'm done with November. Bring on December!"

Little did I know the many unexpected situations that I would encounter in December.

If you pause to reflect on your December (or any other month), you may also recognize a similar range of unexpected situations – highs and lows – with attributes to acknowledge and lessons to learn. Regardless of the situation, I firmly believe there is something important to learn from each experience.

Among many other things, listed below are the three highest priority lessons from my month.

  1. Appreciate your friends. Not just your social media friends. Real friends. Friends you trust. Friends you can count on. Friends who listen and care. Friends who check in to make sure you are ok in tough times. Friends who are willing to stand up for you and take risks to support you.
  2. Invest in family. I am incredibly fortunate to have family who give meaning and purpose to my life. I value my time with each person, regardless of the situation. However, I also acknowledge that some family dynamics are less than ideal, uncomfortable, and sometimes awkward. Yet, our beliefs, attitudes, and ideals (our origins) are deeply rooted in family. Invest time and energy in loving your family for their uniqueness and loving them in spite of their uniqueness.
  3. Give generously. Yes, I know we just completed the season of gift giving. Even though I appreciate thoughtful or practical gifts, in my opinion the best gifts we can receive or give are the gifts of quality time, acts of service, and words of affirmation (Chapman & White, 2012). My atypical December helped me recognize, give, and receive the gifts of time, love, and support.

Lessons in life are only valuable when we can apply what we learn to future situations. What did I learn during December that I can apply in the new year?
Be the friend that others can count on.
Value each experience with family.
Give generously to help others.

Best wishes for learning and applying lots of life lessons over the next 12 months of 2018!   

Chapman, G. & White, P. (2012). The 5 languages of appreciation in the workplace: Empowering organizations by encouraging people. Chicago: Northfield Publishing.

Life is a Lesson Plan

Thank you

Dec 21
Kim Kidwell, Dean of the College of ACES

As the end of the year draws near, I invite you to reflect with me as we look back on all that we accomplished in 2017. The highlight reel is full of amazing accomplishments and impacts.

A year for transition

It was a challenging year of transition for me as I familiarized myself with the University of Illinois and College of ACES communities, and for all you as you adapted to having new leadership at the helm. I am grateful for the support I have received both internally and externally from the many people who care about this institution and are willing to engage with us to help shape its future. I appreciate your support and encouragement as I continue to navigate a steep learning curve. Please know that I do my best every day to serve you and our college well.

A year for connection
I traveled around the state, country, and globe meeting alumni and friends of ACES who generously donate their time, energy, and resources to our cause demonstrating their faith in us as shepherds of a vibrant future for our disciplines and the generations of ACES graduates to come. Their stories are inspiring, motivating, and humbling, and remind me of why this place is so very special.

A year for achievement
What distinguishes this college from its peers is the quality, dedication, and determination of the people within the ACES family. There is something extraordinarily special about a group of people who believe that what we do is worth fighting for, regardless of the circumstances. I am optimistic about what the future holds for the University of Illinois and for the College of ACES. I am grateful to each of you for investing your time and talent in this organization. Together we achieve excellence and propel the next generation to even greater heights. I am proud of you and marvel at the impact you have on the world.

I will end this year with a simple thank you for all that you do to make the College of ACES and University of Illinois great. I am incredibly hopeful about our future, and am deeply honored to share this journey with you.

I wish you a joyful holiday season sharing time with family and friends, celebrating all the amazing gifts in our lives.

Kim Kidwell, Dean
College of ACES

Japan Visit
Dr. Vijay Singh, President Kurachi, Dean Kidwell and Kimberly Meenen celebrate the opening of a Japan Corn Starch Plant in early Dec. Singh designed their wet milling corn processing line. Kurachi’s daughter Erika was back on campus studying for finals.