The end of the year is a great time to look back and reflect on the accomplishments of the CALS community. Here are some of the stories that made 2019 a memorable year for the college.
In October, the state’s Joint Finance Committee gave final approval for the Dairy Innovation Hub, a state-supported effort to expand research and teaching at the state’s three agricultural colleges with the goal of developing new technologies and approaches to strengthen the dairy industry and the communities that depend upon it. Heather White, associate professor of dairy science, was selected to help lead and oversee the hub effort. The vision for the hub was originally crafted by industry partners following the UW System-sponsored Dairy Summit in 2017 and further refined by members of the state’s Dairy Task Force 2.0, which was chaired by CALS/Extension’s Mark Stephenson.
Students in the spring microbiology capstone course studied bacteria isolated from one of the most extreme habitats on earth: hydrothermal vents more than a mile below the ocean’s surface where the temperature is 700 degrees Fahrenheit, give or take. The students were working with samples collected by Karthik Anantharaman, professor of bacteriology, on a research cruise to the Pacific Ocean. Of the 91 strains of bacteria isolated, two or three appeared to have never been cultured in the lab before.
In response to demand for Wisconsin-specific industrial hemp production information, CALS and Extension leaders partnered together to fund a research and outreach project to support the state’s growers. The project brought together an interdisciplinary team of CALS/Extension researchers and educators to study and share best practices for hemp production and harvest, in organic and conventional systems, across a range of industrial hemp varieties. A number of hemp-focused field days were held at the project’s various field trial sites, and hemp was the special focus of the annual Agronomy/Soils Field Day at Arlington Agricultural Research Station.
The American Family Insurance Dreams Foundation awarded a $27,000 grant to UW–Madison for a food repackaging program, operated through a partnership between the Department of Food Science and the Division of University Housing. The program is a modern gleaning operation that utilizes leftover food that was cooked, but not served, at markets and dining halls across campus. Overseen by dietetics students, the food is repackaged into individual meals, frozen, and then made available to students at The Crossing. The program aims to reduce food waste and food insecurity.
A team of CALS biochemists, including Ophelia Venturelli, Philip Romero and Ryan Hsu, was named a 2019 WARF Innovation Award winner for their microfluidic tool for mapping how bacteria interact in complex communities. A second CALS team, composed of researchers from the agronomy department and the Wisconsin Crop Innovation Center, was among the six finalists for the competition. Their technology involved the improved extraction and preservation of pathogen-free maize germplasm for genetic engineering processes. Related: Venturelli received funding from the U.S. Army Research Office to support microbial communication research. Agronomy’s Heidi Kaeppler, a member of the finalist team, received NSF funding for crop genetic engineering research.
2019 was an exciting year for the college, with a large number of phenomenal scientists joining the CALS community. Over the course of the year, CALS brought on a total of 19 new faculty members across a variety of departments. The college also welcomed Mark Rickenbach into the role of senior associate dean and bid a fond farewell to Dick Straub, who retired after 40 years with CALS.
In January, a research team led by entomologist Susan Paskewitz published a paper describing the first mosquito-repelling compounds to be derived from bacteria. The work was started by Que Lan, professor of entomology who passed away in 2014 from complications of cancer, and has been carried on by her colleagues. The compounds show promise as a good alternative to picaridin and DEET, and are being tested for safety in human cell culture.
A variety of mobile apps developed by CALS experts were featured in the summer issue of Grow magazine, noting their effectiveness in getting applied research into the hands of farmers quickly and efficiently — and in an easy-to-use form. The CALS-developed apps help guide decisions about replanting soybeans, avoiding and combating white mold, processing corn silage, and soil nutrient management. The story was cited by Wisconsin State Rep. Amy Loudenbeck as an example of the importance of public education by CALS and the Division of Extension.
The first ever Day of the Badger was held on April 9, 2019. Over the course of 1848 minutes, more than 150 donors made gifts to CALS and more than $60,000 was raised. The money was designated for scholarships for incoming freshmen who participate in CALS QuickStart, a program designed to help incoming first-year CALS students get an early start on coursework, reduce their time to graduation and join a cohort of fellow students.
A November report from researchers in the Department of Life Sciences Communication analyzed decades of public opinion surveys to reveal that the public’s trust in scientists has remained stable and high (around 40 percent) over decades. Increasing concerns among scientists over science becoming partisan are not reflected in recent General Social Survey (GSS) polls, but the research team did uncover a persistent gap in the confidence in science expressed by rural and suburban residents. Overall, the study suggests that there is stable trust in the institution at many levels, in contrast to some media narratives that highlight partisanship in science.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and members of the Wisconsin congressional delegation toured the aging Horticulture Annex and Carrot and Beet Lab, as well as the USDA ARS Cereal Crops Research Lab nearby, on October 1. Legislators included Wisconsin Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, Wisconsin Democratic U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, and Wisconsin Republican U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil. UW–Madison horticulture professors Irwin Goldman and Philipp Simon, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Dean Kate VandenBosch, and UW–Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank led the tour of campus facilities.
In late May, students got intensive hands-on field experience identifying and handling Wisconsin wildlife, putting classroom-gained knowledge to use in the most serene of real worlds — Kemp Natural Resources Station near Minocqua, Wisconsin, some 200 miles north of UW–Madison — during the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology’s biennial wildlife summer camp. The students surveyed vegetation and habitats, amphibians, reptiles, and small mammals. Fireside chats with local professionals stressed how interactions with the public and landowners are critical to wildlife management. Photos from the camp were a hit on the college’s Instagram account.
In September, the Babcock Hall Dairy Plant halted production to accommodate the major construction/renovation project happening at Babcock Hall. The Chocolate Shoppe won the contract to manufacture Babcock ice cream – according to the university’s traditional recipes – during the plant’s down time, so (thankfully!) many of the most popular flavors of this iconic ice cream will continue to be available in current campus and community outlets.