CFAES honors its outstanding researchers

Here’s who won the 2018 Junior Faculty, Senior Faculty, Innovator and Krauss research awards.

On April 27, CFAES honored the following faculty members, who were announced as the winners of the college’s annual awards for outstanding research. The presentations were made during an afternoon session at the CFAES Annual Research Conference. The conference was held on the Wooster campus.

Leah McHale, Distinguished Junior Faculty Research Award

Leah McHale is an associate professor in the Department of Horticulture and Crop Science based on the Columbus campus. She joined the department in 2009 as an assistant professor and was promoted in 2015. Her research areas are soybean breeding and genetics and genetics of disease resistance and quality. McHale has a nationally recognized program focusing on the characterization and manipulation of natural variation in crop plants, primarily soybean and chili peppers. Her research goal is to identify the genes conferring disease resistance, yield and quality traits, and in soybean, to examine how best to integrate these alleles for the development of improved varieties. To accomplish these goals, she uses new technologies and a cross-disciplinary approach, including genetics and genomics, evolutionary studies, bioinformatics, and plant pathology.

McHale has successfully funded her research program using grants from state and national agencies. Since coming to Ohio State, she has received $33 million in funding. She currently has eight active grants. She has produced over 40 peer-reviewed publications, 34 since her hire by CFAES, and has 69 other publications such as abstracts and papers in proceedings. She has served on 29 MS and PhD student advisory committees in addition to her own students. McHale has completed five graduate students, supervises three PhD students, and advised 19 undergraduate student research projects, many of whom were recognized with awards and grants.

McHale’s contribution to soybean research at the state and national levels is widely recognized. She has released nine soybean public cultivars. Tom Fontana, director of research and education, Ohio Soybean Council, describes McHale as a “very important member of the soybean research team at Ohio State, and we have supported her financially since her arrival. She has reinvigorated the soybean breeding program by releasing new varieties of food grade and non-GMO soybeans and developing varieties to meet new opportunities for soy foods, which are an important specialty market for Ohio’s farmers.”

The award consists of a plaque and $1,000 for McHale and $3,000 added to the operating expense account of her research program for one year.

David Mackey, Distinguished Senior Faculty Research Award

David Mackey is a professor in the Department of Horticulture and Crop Science based on the Columbus campus. He serves as associate director of the Center for Applied Plant Sciences (CAPS). He joined the department in 2002, was promoted in 2009 to associate professor and was promoted again in 2015. His research areas are plant molecular biology, function of the plant immune system, action of pathogen-derived virulence factors, role of RIN4 in plant immune responses, structure of the plant defense network supporting cell wall fortification, and modification of maize metabolism by a bacterial pathogen.

Mackey has led an innovative interdisciplinary research program exploring crop physiological, biochemical, and genetic factors that promote susceptibility or induce resistance to economically significant bacterial diseases. Using Arabidopsis and sweet corn model systems, he and his colleagues have delineated mechanisms by which AvrE virulence factors produced by bacterial pathogens overcome plant protective response mechanisms by redirecting plant metabolism away from producing compounds that confer disease immunity. Understanding how AvrE factors affect plants at the cellular and organelle level may offer a greater array of plant and pathogen metabolic targets that could be exploited to improve crop resistance to bacterial diseases resulting in economic stability and greater food security worldwide.

Mackey has conducted his research in collaboration with colleagues internally, externally, nationally, and internationally. He has been Principle Investigator (PI) for nearly $3.5 million and co-PI of over $1 million in grants; has had 43 invitations to present his work nationally and internationally; has served on 29 committees reviewing grant proposals; and has published 47 refereed articles cited over 4,100 times. Mackey is associate editor of six journals and is a frequent peer reviewer for 26 journals. He has advised eight PhD and two MS students and has been a member of the Student Advisory Committee of 24 additional PhD candidates and three MS students, many of whom have received numerous awards and acquired tenure-track positions at universities, appointments as medical research professionals, or posts in private industry.

The award consists of a plaque and $1,000 for Mackey and $3,000 added to the operating expense account of his research program for one year.

V.M. Balasubramaniam, Innovator of the Year Award

V.M. Balasubramaniam is a professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology based in Columbus. He was selected for his research on developing creative High Pressure Based Clean Process Technology Development for Healthy Processed Foods as well as entrepreneurial efforts in subsequent technology transfer into industrial practice. Consumers seek food and beverages that are healthier, so meeting the growing demand for processed foods with substantiated health benefits is a major challenge. Development of cost-effective, next-generation gentler food processing technologies for healthy processed foods is a critical need.

For the past two decades, Balasubramaniam and his multidisciplinary collaborators from Ohio State, together with food industry and equipment vendors, have focused on solving these challenges through the development of high pressure based food manufacture technological solutions. High pressure involves exposing food to very high pressures (87,000 pounds per square inch) with or without heat to inactivate harmful microorganisms and spoilage microorganisms with reduced or minimal impact on product nutrients and quality. Technological solutions Balasubramaniam and his colleagues have developed include commercialization of high pressure, pressure-ohmic thermal processing, ultra shear technology, and high pressure crystallization of lipids.

Balasubramaniam helped establish a global network of experts through the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), which conducts annual workshops and short courses around the globe to transfer laboratory research to industrial practice, thus receiving the 2017 Cal Willey IFT Distinguished Service Award. His work has also received media attention; Popular Mechanics highlighted his research under “10 Tech Concepts You Need to Know for 2012,” and the Columbus Dispatch (February 2017) noted how Ohio became a hub for high pressure food processing in part due to Balasubramaniam and his colleagues’ contributions. Balasubramaniam was elected a Fellow of Institute of Food Technologists in 2017 and a Fellow of International Academy of Food Science and Technology in 2016. His innovative and creative contributions have served as a catalyst for implementation of high pressure based technological solutions in the food industry and has impacted society at large.

The award consists of a plaque and $1,000 for Balasubramaniam and $2,500 added to the operating expense account of his research program for one year.

Erdal Ozkan, Luis Canas, Michael Reding, Christopher Ranger, Heping Zhu; Innovator of the Year Award

The Intelligent Sprayer Development and Testing Team consists of Erdal Ozkan, professor, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering; Luis Canas, associate professor, Entomology; Michael Reding, adjunct professor, Entomology; Christopher Ranger, adjunct professor, Entomology; and Heping Zhu, adjunct professor, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering. In addition, recognition is also given to support staff Adam Clark, Barry Nudd, and Andy Doklovic, who are engineering technicians in the Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering.

The team was selected for its development of the Laser-Guided Variable-Rate Intelligent Sprayer for Nursery, Orchard, and Grape Applications. The sprayer developed and field tested by the team is the first automatic spraying system of its kind in the world. It can detect the presence of crop canopy, map the canopy  architecture, calculate the sectional canopy volume for individual nozzles, and activate individual nozzles to discharge variable spray outputs to match crop architectures and foliage volume in real time. This innovation was nominated based on its uniqueness, its potential impact (cost and time savings to producers, protecting the environment from potential pollution from excessive use of pesticides), and for leading to obtaining significant funding from USDA. It has also received national awards and recognition.

The new spraying system eliminates excessive waste of pesticides when spraying trees or similar plants with conventional air-assisted sprayers. This waste reduction is beneficial to ecosystems and saves growers money. It also saves growers time by requiring fewer spray tank refills to cover the same area. The new spraying system will significantly advance spray technologies and offer an economically and environmentally responsible approach for growers to controlling insects and diseases as well as applying other foliar products.

The award consists of a plaque for each of the team members, $1,000 for Ozkan and Canas, and $5,000 added to the team’s operating expense account for one year.

Tonsol Park, William E. Krauss Award for Excellence in Graduate Research

Tansol Park, Animal Sciences was honored for “Inhibition of the Rumen Ciliate Entodinium caudatum by Antibiotics.” He received $1,000 and a framed copy of his paper. A framed copy also went to his advisor, Zhongtang Yu, also of Animal Sciences. The Krauss award recognizes the best published paper by a CFAES PhD student.

The members of the selection committee for the Junior Faculty, Senior Faculty, and Krauss awards were V.M. Balasubramaniam (co-chair), Michelle Jones (co-chair), Jeff Firkins, Jeff LeJeune, Feng Qu, and Megan Meuti Nicol.

Before the awards presentation, the conference featured two keynote speakers, eight “lightning round” presentations by CFAES researchers, a stakeholder panel discussion and an update on CFAES by Dean Cathann A. Kress. The conference’s focus was water quality.