IALR’s SMART tables continue to advance technologically. The tables, which are precision imaging platforms built to record and track plant growth and development, now have the ability to robotically test soil conditions such as moisture and temperature. This was made possible as part of a Virginia Tech Mechanical Engineering Senior Design project. The year-long challenge was spearheaded by five Mechanical Engineering students who were tasked to develop and implement the new modular heads. Additionally, a new camera platform was included to enhance computer vision analysis of plant growth and health. These improvements will enable IALR scientists to more precisely monitor plant growth conditions to better validate test results. The modular head design will also allow further development of new soil sensing probes in the future. 

Team members included: Jeonghee Lee, Rhythm Kim, Philip Meekhof, Brad Jones, and Tanner Gunn. Their advisor was Christopher Kappes. 

The Senior Design team visited IALR in May to install the new modular heads.

Photo: Chief Scientist Scott Lowman, PhD, VA Tech seniors Brad Jones, Philip Meekhof, Tanner Gunn, Jeonghee Lee, and Executive Director Mark Gignac (left to right)

The Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (IALR) in Danville, Virginia has recently established a collaboration with Dr. Brent Nielsen, Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Biology, at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. The collaboration is centered on beneficial bacteria that are capable of increasing plant growth in agricultural soils containing high levels of salt. The bacteria isolated by Dr. Nielsen, called halophiles, will be tested on IALRs SMART table imaging system along with bacteria from IALR’s in-house endophyte library. 

“We are excited to be working with Dr. Nielsen on salt tolerant beneficial bacteria as this is an area of high interest with agricultural producers in many parts of the world” said Dr. Scott Lowman, Chief Scientist at IALR. Executive Director Mark Gignac noted that IALR plans to add an additional 1000 bacteria to our endophyte library, also known as our beneficial bacteria toolbox, during the 2018 growing season. 

Photo: Dr. Chuansheng Mei is shown with a dish of bacterial endophytes that solubilize insoluble phosphates. 

At the Blue Ridge Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America’s annual Summit Awards, the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research was recognized for its efforts in communications.  

Among more than 50 entries in each category, IALR rose above the nominees to receive the Gold Award for Multimedia Program (longer than two minutes) and the Gold Award for Newsletter (external audiences).  IALR received the Silver Award in Public Relations Campaign (non-profit organizations) and for Annual Report.  This was the second year in a row that the Institute received an award for its Annual Report, and the third year in a row for receiving an award for its Newsletter.

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