This post is part of a migration of posts from our previous website.
Originally posted on December 16, 2019
Happy Holidays from the Sparks lab!
Things are going well here in Newark! We had a new MS student, Stephen Smith, join us from the Bioinformatics program. Stephen will be working on the Environmental aspects of root growth and development and we are excited to have him on board. We will also have a MS student from Chemical Engineering, Rickey Egan, visiting the lab during Winter Term for a fun mini-project on oil palm. As the group continues to grow we are grateful for the talent and enthusiasm of all our team members.
In granting news, we received funding from the University of Delaware Research Foundation Strategic Initiative Award in collaboration with Dr. Monique Head in Civil Engineering to start exploring the structural mechanics of corn using her expertise as a bridge engineer. This work will kick off in January, so stay tuned for pictures and updates on our collaboration. We further received funding from the Delaware Biosciences Center for Advanced Technology in collaboration with Dr. Alyssa Koehler, Plant Pathologist. For this work, we are partnering with a Delaware corn producer to study pythium infections and develop mitigation strategies for the Mid-Atlantic. We are delighted by this research support and excited to continue working with wonderful partners.
Research-wise, we are trying to sort through the mountains of data that we collected from the field over the summer. As you all know, data analysis is an iterative process. For our field-based mechanical testing to understand brace root function, we took a second look at our data and decided maybe there is a better way to analyze it! So back to the drawing board. We are committed performing a robust analysis and that means spending time with our data and understanding all of the nuances. We’re optimistic to have this analysis completed in early 2020, so we can tell you more about how brace roots function to stabilize plants and what makes a brace root good at it’s job.
Other research areas continue to progress as we continue to develop new technologies and explore their function in understanding plant growth dynamics. We are particularly excited about the “Plant Pusher” developed by a team of UD Engineering Senior Design students. These students went from idea, to concept, to functional prototype in one semester. We are blown away by their aptitude and progress. The goal of the project was to develop an automated platform for mechanical testing in the greenhouse. We are currently using this device to compare the mechanics of plants grown in the field versus greenhouse to finalize a methods paper on this topic. While several field-based mechanical testing devices exist (see our recent review on arXiv), the application of these devices to the greenhouse is limited. This device will allow us to test plants under abiotic and biotic stresses that we cannot perform in the field. This has expanded the potential research applications exponentially.
Other than that we are gearing up for our move to a new building in early 2020! We are excited for the new space and to be closer to our colleagues in Agriculture. We’ve also added a new section to the lab website of Lab Pictures, so check it out. We will work to keep it updated with pictures of our science and fun happenings.
We wish you all a happy and relaxing holiday season and a joyous new year!