Faculty fellowships funded by state-sponsored Dairy Innovation Hub

Dairy Innovation Hub Fellowships

The University of Wisconsin­-Platteville recently awarded seven faculty research fellowships to help increase dairy-related research capacity through the Dairy Innovation Hub initiative. Known as the Dairy industry – impact and innovation – faculty fellowships or “DI3 faculty fellowships,” selected faculty members will tackle research projects in the Hub’s four priority areas: stewarding land and water resources; enriching human health and nutrition; ensuring animal health and welfare; and growing farm business and communities.

The Dairy Innovation Hub, which the state of Wisconsin is supporting to the tune of $1 million this year and $7.8 million per year in subsequent years, harnesses research and development at UW-Madison, UW-Platteville and UW-River Falls campuses to keep Wisconsin’s $45.6 billion dairy community at the global forefront in producing nutritious dairy products in an economically, environmentally and socially sustainable manner.

A faculty research fellowship is a temporary position for permanent faculty members. The goal is to provide support for a specific research project and any ancillary costs, including ensuring that the faculty member will have time to conduct the research and support for existing teaching responsibilities.

“Encouraging collaboration across the UW-Platteville campus is a critical role for the Dairy Innovation Hub,” said Dr. Tera Montgomery, professor of animal and dairy science, who leads the Hub’s UW-Platteville campus steering committee. “These fellowships are representative of the innovative ideas that come from members of the UW-Platteville community. Each project brings talent from outside the dairy space to make tangible improvements to the lives and businesses of our local dairy community.”

As farmers, processors and citizens move forward to recover from the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, there has never been a greater need for evidence-based, highly implementable dairy research.

With Dairy Innovation Hub support, UW-Platteville recently hired a ruminant nutritionist and an agricultural and biological systems engineer. Recipients for capacity-building supplies and equipment have also been selected for funding from the Hub. More information is at dairyinnovationhub.wisc.edu.

The following UW-Platteville faculty fellows were selected for Dairy Innovation Hub funding:

Dr. Mark Levenstein, Department of Biology – Levenstein is an assistant professor of molecular biology and biotechnology and academic director of the Master of Science in Applied Biotechnology program. He teaches a variety of courses in biological sciences including animal tissue culture, where he trains students in aseptic technique and laboratory cell culture.

Dr. Gokul Gopalakrishnan, Department of Engineering Physics – Gopalakrishnan, a UW System Regent Scholar, is an associate professor in the engineering physics department. His current research is based on the fabrication and simulation of semiconductor nanostructures for microelectronic, microfluidic and biosensing applications.

Project name: Nanosculpted silicon membranes for shape-based biological separations

Project summary: Dairy farmers contend with a broad array of pathogens in their efforts to produce high-quality milk. For example, almost 20 different microbes are known to cause mastitis, the most common disease of dairy cattle. These infections are often treated using broad spectrum antibiotics, which raises concerns of antibiotic resistance. Isolating and identifying specific culprits from small test samples will enable farmers to incorporate more focused treatment regimens with less productivity loss for their livestock. To achieve this goal, the project proposes to develop a nanofiltration system that can be customized to isolate microbial species. While techniques exist for the separation of particles by mass or size, they lack the precision to separate by shape. The project proposes a novel method to separate particles based on shape and size, using precision nanoporous membrane filters. This platform will provide a significant step forward in the ability to isolate pathogens and enable dairy farmers to more effectively manage the health of their herds.

Dr. James Hampton, School of Agriculture – Hampton an associate professor in the animal and dairy science program and teaches courses in anatomy and physiology as well as reproductive physiology. His research interests include ovarian follicular development and endocrinology.

Dr. Krista Hardyman, DVM, School of Agriculture – Hardyman, an associate professor in the animal and dairy science program, is also a veterinarian. She teaches a wide variety of courses in the School of Agriculture, including dairy cattle management and animal health and welfare.

Project name: Interactions of fibroblast growth factor and protein metabolism during the postpartum period in lactating dairy cows and their effect on animal health

Project summary: The immediate postpartum period in lactating dairy cattle is the time when cows are most vulnerable to metabolic disorders such as ketosis and fatty liver. These disorders often predispose the animal to additional diseases and may impair reproduction. A potential marker of metabolic distress and protein imbalance is fibroblast growth factor 21 (FGF21). The goal of this project is to investigate the relationship between FGF21, protein metabolism and reproduction during the early postpartum period in dairy cows. Samples will be collected to determine if increases in FGF21 are associated with negative protein balance, which in turn may delay ovulation. This study will provide undergraduate students the opportunity to gain experience in several research techniques and lay the foundation for future studies during this critical time period. Data from this work will improve the understanding of the early postpartum period and contribute to improvements in animal health, diagnosis and interventions.

Dr. Harold T. (Hal) Evensen, Department of Engineering Physics –Evensen is a professor in the Department of Engineering Physics. His collaborative research explores the self-assembly of semiconducting carbon nanotube films, and application of these to electronics and sensors. He is additionally involved in developing Internet of Things (IOT)-related education.

Dr. Cyrus Habibi, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering – Habibi is an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. In addition to teaching, his research interest lies in the field of industrial instrumentation and control, signal processing and sensors.

Dr. Andrew Cartmill, School of Agriculture – Cartmill is an assistant professor in the soil and crop science program. He teaches a variety of courses related to soil, crops and pest management. Cartmill’s research interests focus on sustainability and ecology and he has a current project that incorporates grazing dairy livestock and agroecosystem research.

Chris Wilson, farmer and community partner – Wilson is a dairy farmer from Cuba City, Wisconsin whose family farm manages 500 cows and heifers in a rotational grazing system. He is interested in improving efficiencies for moving cattle and allowing for less productive (e.g. hillsides or fields with trees) and more remote land to be more useful in his system.

Project name: Local virtual enclosures to enforce managed grazing.

Project summary: Chris Wilson rotates his grazing dairy herd by manually moving lightweight fencing, which is cumbersome. Digital solutions for confining livestock exist, involving use of GPS collars. However, these systems are costly and over-designed for the end goal, which is merely to move the cattle through a grazing area. Therefore, we propose to investigate and develop “local” means to establish and enforce a virtual, progressive grazing area. We will pursue two approaches: moving a physical fence or objects; and moving a virtual fence using short-range wireless technologies. For the “virtual” option, some technologies under consideration are ultra-high frequency RFID and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) tags. Using beacons or readers, the animal’s rough location will be monitored, allowing it to be directed toward “acceptable” locations as determined by the farmer.

Dr. Asad Azemi, Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering – Azemi is a professor of electrical engineering, teaching a variety of courses in electrical, computer science and engineering, and information sciences. He has used classical and intelligent systems in his research to solve complex problems. 

Dr. Mehdi Roopaei, Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering Roopaei is an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering. He teaches a variety of courses and his research interests include artificial intelligence, data-driven decision making, and machine learning control.

Dr. Krista Hardyman, DVM, School of Agriculture – Hardyman, an associate professor in the animal and dairy science program, is also a veterinarian. She teaches a wide variety of courses in the School of Agriculture, including dairy cattle management and animal health and welfare.

Dr. James Hampton, School of Agriculture – Hampton an associate professor in the animal and dairy science program and teaches courses in anatomy and physiology as well as reproductive physiology. His research interests include ovarian follicular development and endocrinology.

Project name: Bringing artificial intelligence to the dairy barn

Project summary: Farms have relied on human vision to observe and interpret animal behavior. As farm sizes increase and labor changes, it is more challenging to rely on human observations. The goal of this project is to design a modular, low-cost monitoring system using sensors, computer vision and artificial intelligence to assist Wisconsin dairy farmers with the health and welfare of their herd and grow their farm business. In the full version of the system, the smart cameras and sensors will observe and detect nutritional, behavioral, health and environmental activities that can impact animal welfare and wellbeing. Next, we will translate this visual information and sensor collected data into actionable insights that enable the farmer to make data-driven decisions to improve farm operations and animal health. The idea of using an artificial intelligence system for dairy farm management is not new, but existing systems are too expensive for many farmers. The outcome of this project will provide an opportunity for farmers to employ an affordable system and grow their business.

Dr. Claudine Pied, Department of Social Sciences Pied is an associate professor of sociology and anthropology. Her research interests include rural politics and economic change and land ownership and access in the US.

Dr. Shan Sappleton, Department of Social Sciences Sappleton is an associate professor of political science focusing on comparative and international politics. Her research includes Francophone West Africa, ethnic politicization and democratic consolidation.

Project name: Changing agricultural land: Understanding impacts on southern Wisconsin’s dairy farms and rural communities

Project summary: As record numbers of small and mid-sized dairy farms have closed, agricultural lands are changing hands, often being converted out of agriculture or consolidated into larger farms. This project will study the effects of land changes on southern Wisconsin dairy farms and communities and will explore the possibilities of land stewardship as a means to alleviate farmers’ struggles. In the first phase of the project, researchers will analyze existing data on the economies, populations and land sales of Grant and Dane counties. In the second phase, student and faculty researchers will interview farmers and community members to learn about their relationship to the land, how their land use has changed and the benefits and barriers of various agricultural land-use programs. In phase three, a survey will focus on differences in the towns and regions of southern Wisconsin. Study results will ultimately help dairy leaders, government agencies and nonprofit organizations make decisions about land use policy. One of the primary goals is to increase student awareness of land stewardship, strong farms, and healthy communities and build stronger connections between social science and agriculture at UW-Platteville.

Dr. Bidhan Roy, Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Roy is an associate professor of mechanical engineering and specializes in continuum mechanics, biofluid mechanics, applied mathematics and computational methods.

Dr. Thomas Zolper, Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering – Zolper is an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and specializes in fluid mechanics, energy systems and polymer rheology.

Project name: Measuring the rheological properties of ice cream to predict its mouth-feel sensations

Project summary: Wisconsin ranks as a major producer of ice-cream and the majority of manufacturers have been in business for over 50 years, many are small family-owned businesses.

In order to sustain a robust economic growth, the ice-cream industry must keep strides with recent advances in science, technology and customer preference. To be at the forefront in producing nutritious products in an economically, environmentally and socially sustainable manner, the industry must innovate. Cutting across discipline lines, people with expertise in engineering and dairy sciences will come together and apply their knowledge to improve on such dairy products. This study will build understanding of the fluid mechanical characteristics of an ice-cream mix prepared by students as part of their coursework. Using a neural network model, the characteristics will be correlated with the mouth-feel sensations of the ice-cream samples. This will enable prediction of the taste sensations for various types of ice-cream mixes.

Dr. Joseph Wu, Department of Chemistry – Wu is an associate professor of chemistry with a background in analytical chemistry and chemical engineering. He has been active in material development, characterization and applications. 

Dr. John Obielodan, Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering – Obielodan is an associate professor of mechanical engineering with design and manufacturing experience in the automotive sector. His research interests include development of novel materials using additive manufacturing also known as 3D printing processes.

Project name: Development of milk-protein-based 3D printing biocomposites using spoiled milk and whey from dairy processing waste.

Project summary: Casein and whey have been shown to have unique polymer properties for commercial applications. This project will explore the idea of converting casein in waste milk and whey from cheese byproduct to make filaments for the ever-growing 3D printing sector. Casein holds great promise as a major component in 3D printing filament. Water soluble whey can be modified to be compatible with the filament making process. Applying existing experience and knowledge in biocomposite development will help us realize the hidden potential of sustainable casein and whey in material development. Expected deliverables are milk-protein based filaments, 3D printed specimens and mechanical properties data. Achieving milestones in this project will create a new demand for milk and milk protein products and a new way to use spoiled/bacteria-contaminated milk and protein waste from processing facilities, which could potentially help farmers and communities avoid financial losses and disposal.