The Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission (TRRC) awarded IALR grant funds for the Agribusiness grant application titled: “Utilizing Naturally Occurring Beneficial Microbes for Farm Specific Agriculture Solutions in Southern Virginia”. Total project value is $542,832 and the award amount is $258,020. The three year applied research and education project supports advanced research activities focusing on utilizing our endophyte library to improve plant health and disease control in high value crops including tobacco, strawberry, grapevine, vegetables, and hops by developing regional, crop life-cycle specific, farm disease challenge surveys with 20 farmers in a six county region. This grant also includes $20,000 in funding for a partnership with VT’s Global Information Technology Center for data analytics, predictive modeling, and computer vision. 

Executive Director Mark Gignac commented, “The Tobacco Commission awarded IALR funding in January 2017 to establish our Precision Ag program that has accomplished much in the past year and will remain an ongoing area of research. This new grant award will help propel our existing beneficial bacteria library (called endophytes) to a new level. IALR is exploring the establishment of an Applied Biostimulant Research Center based upon our endophyte work.”

Chief Scientist Dr. Scott Lowman and Senior Scientist Dr. Chuansheng Mei display inoculated tobacco.

IALR and Virginia Tech officially celebrated the transfer of a robotic growing unit from IALR to Virginia Tech as the start of a long term collaboration.  Executive Director Mark Gignac and Senior Scientist Dr. Scott Lowman have been meeting regularly with Dr. John Wells to explore various ideas, including ways to integrate the two synergistic components of education and research, using science and technology to drive learning through discovery.  Dr. Wells is an associate professor of education specializing in Integrative STEM and Technology education.

The robotic growing unit surfaced as the perfect foundation for an ongoing relationship.  IALR placed this unit on the Virginia Tech campus, where Dr. Wells will be developing a pilot program that will serve as a learning platform, in addition to contributing to research taking place at IALR.  According to Dr. Wells, “Bottom line, ensuring the student research directly contributes to IALR’s research is the critical foundation for future IALR funding proposals where the educational merit component directly aligns with (a) preparing a STEM workforce, (b) improving students’ critical thinking skills (c) supporting undergraduate research, and (d) increasing the P-12 student pipeline for STEM fields”.

PHOTOPictured are Mark Gignac, Dr. Scott Lowman, Dr. Al Wicks, Rick Weaver, Dr. Jerzy Nowak, Dr. John Wells, student team members, and Daniel Caccavelli.

Learning was front and center at the Institute over winter break.  Advanced learning staff facilitated two camps for students in grades three – eight; Santa’s STEM Challenge and Coding the New Year.  All learning activities focused on STEM - Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics and were holiday themed.

Some of the activities included making gingerbread slime, making fake snow using diapers, constructing snow globes and coding ornaments, and learning simple circuitry to make a Christmas card.  One of the two camps incorporated coding, which makes it possible for people to create computer software, apps, and websites.  Computers follow a list of “instructions” developed by a coder or computer programmer.

“It’s important to keep students actively engaged in learning while out of school.  Students are learning how science, technology, engineering, and math are involved with everyday topics and tasks,” said Dana Silicki, IALR Advanced Learning Program Coordinator.

View more Holiday STEM Camp photos by clicking here

PhotoHonor Ford, Jacob Davis, Elliot Kruggel, and Emma Kruggel (left to right) make fake snow using water, polymers and diapers. The fake snow is non-toxic, feels cool to the touch, lasts for days, and looks similar to the real thing.