It might not seem like engineering and horticulture have much in common. But WenZhan Song and Marc van Iersel are finding new ways to intertwine their respective fields thanks to UGA’s Presidential Interdisciplinary Seed Grant Program.
Song and van Iersel’s project, “Smart cyber-physical systems for controlled-environment agriculture,” lies at the intersection of food security, energy and environmental sustainability, and includes additional faculty in the College of Engineering, Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and Terry College of Business.
Marc van Iersel and WenZhan Song’s work has led to a $5 million grant from the USDA. (Photo by Dorothy Kozlowski)
“When the call for the Interdisciplinary Seed Grants came out, it was a perfect fit for this group, so we decided to apply. Getting the grant allowed us to formalize our collaboration and really start doing joint research,” said van Iersel, a professor of horticulture in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. “The hope of the joint work is that we can tackle the issue of energy efficiency in controlled-environment agriculture by integrating our respective knowledge in horticulture, engineering, energy informatics and computer science.”
The grant allowed the researchers to purchase and install sensors within a greenhouse to collect environmental and crop health data. The findings could have implications for improving food safety and for growing plants in space, as part of disaster relief efforts and for military applications. The team subsequently has received a grant from the USDA for $5 million over four years and has a pending proposal with the NSF to continue this line of research.
WenZhan Song, left, and Marc van Iersel are working together to tackle the issue of energy efficiency in controlled-environment agriculture. (Photo by Dorothy Kozlowski)
“Sometimes you have different languages, and sometimes you have different interests, but it’s about everyone stepping forward to find common ground,” said Song, Georgia Power Mickey A. Brown Professor in the College of Engineering.