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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 Dairy Innovation 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.

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. It ensures that the faculty member will have time to conduct the research as well as have the support for existing teaching responsibilities.

With the hub’s support UW-Platteville recently hired a ruminant nutritionist and an agricultural and biological-systems engineer. Recipients for capacity-building supplies and equipment also have been selected for funding. UW-Platteville faculty fellows were selected for Dairy Innovation Hub funding for several projects.

Mark Levenstein is an assistant professor of molecular biology and biotechnology and the academic director of the master of science in applied-biotechnology program. He teaches students about animal tissue culture and trains them in aseptic technique and laboratory cell culture.

Gokul Gopalakrishnan is a UW-System regent scholar and an associate professor in the engineering physics department. His research focuses 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 many pathogens in their efforts to produce good-quality milk. About 20 different microbes are known to cause mastitis, the most common disease of dairy cattle. The infections often are 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.

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. The platform is expected to improve the ability to isolate pathogens and enable dairy farmers to more effectively manage herd health.

James Hampton is an associate professor in the animal and dairy science program and teaches courses in anatomy, physiology and reproductive physiology. His research interests include ovarian-follicular development and endocrinology.

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

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

Project summary – The immediate postpartum period in lactating dairy cattle is when cows are most vulnerable to metabolic disorders such as ketosis and fatty liver. The disorders often predispose the animal to additional diseases and may impair reproduction. Fibroblast growth factor 21 is a potential marker of metabolic distress and protein imbalance.

The goal of the project is to investigate the relationship between fibroblast growth factor 21, protein metabolism and reproduction during the early postpartum period. Samples will be collected to determine if increases in fibroblast growth factor 21 are associated with negative protein balance, which may delay ovulation.

The study will provide undergraduate students the opportunity to gain experience in several research techniques and lay the foundation for future studies. Data from the work are expected to improve understanding of early postpartum and contribute to improvements in animal health, diagnosis and interventions.

Harold (Hal) Evensen is a professor in the engineering physics department. His collaborative research explores the self-assembly of semiconducting carbon nanotube films, and application to electronics and sensors. He also is involved in developing internet of things-related education.

Cyrus Habibi is an assistant professor in the electrical and computer engineering department. His research is focused in the field of industrial instrumentation and control, signal processing and sensors.

Andrew Cartmill is an assistant professor in the soil and crop science program. He teaches courses related to soil, crops and pest management. His research focuses on sustainability and ecology. A current project incorporates grazing dairy livestock and agroecosystem research.

Chris Wilson is a dairy farmer from Cuba City, Wisconsin. He and his family manage 500 cows and heifers in a rotational-grazing system. He’s interested in improving efficiencies for moving cattle, and allowing for less productive and more remote land to be more useful in the 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 global-positioning system collars. But those systems are costly and over-designed for the end goal, which is to move cattle through a grazing area.

The researchers propose to investigate and develop “local” means to establish and enforce a virtual-grazing area. They will pursue two approaches – moving a physical fence or objects, and moving a virtual fence using short-range wireless technologies. Ultra-high frequency radio-frequency identification and Bluetooth Low Energy tags are being considered for the “virtual” approach. Using beacons or readers the animal’s approximate location will be monitored. That will allow animals to be directed toward “acceptable” locations as determined by the farmer.

Asad Azemi is a professor of electrical engineering. He teaches courses in electrical, computer science and engineering, and information sciences. He has used classical and intelligent systems in his research to solve complex problems.

Mehdi Roopaei is an assistant professor in the electrical and computer engineering department. He teaches a variety of courses and is focused on research related to artificial intelligence, data-driven decision making, and machine-learning control.

Dr. Krista Hardyman is a veterinarian and an associate professor in the animal and dairy science program. She teaches a wide variety of courses in the school of agriculture, including dairy-cattle management and animal health and welfare.

James Hampton is an associate professor in the animal and dairy science program and teaches courses in anatomy, physiology and 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’s more challenging to rely on human observations. The goal of the project is to design a modular, low-cost monitoring system using sensors, computer vision and artificial intelligence to assist dairy farmers with the health and welfare of their herd and to grow their farm business. Smart cameras and sensors will observe and detect nutritional, behavioral, health and environmental activities that can impact animal welfare and wellbeing. Visual information and data collected by sensors will be translated into actionable insights to enable the farmer to make data-driven decisions.

The idea of using artificial intelligence for dairy-farm management isn’t new, but existing systems are too expensive for many farmers. The project outcome is expected to provide an opportunity for farmers to employ an affordable system.

Claudine Pied is an associate professor of sociology and anthropology. Her research is focused on rural politics and economic change and land ownership and access in the United States.

Shan Sappleton is an associate professor of political science, with a focus 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 ownership. They’re often being converted out of agriculture or consolidated into larger farms. The project will study the effects of land changes on southern Wisconsin dairy farms and communities. It 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 County and Dane County. 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 are expected to ultimately help dairy leaders, government agencies and nonprofits 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 to build stronger connections between social science and agriculture at UW-Platteville.

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

Thomas 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 mouth-feel sensations

Project summary – Wisconsin ranks as a major producer of ice cream. Most of the state’s ice-cream manufacturers have been in business for more than 50 years. Many are small, family-owned businesses.

To sustain robust economic growth the ice-cream industry must keep pace with recent advances in science, technology and customer preference. The industry must innovate to be at the forefront of producing nutritious products in an economically, environmentally and socially sustainable manner.

Individuals with expertise in engineering and dairy science will collaborate and apply their knowledge to improve on such dairy products. The study is expected to 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 ice-cream samples. That is expected to enable prediction of the taste sensations for various types of ice-cream mixes.

Joseph Wu is an associate professor of chemistry with a background in analytical chemistry and chemical engineering. He is involved in material development, characterization and applications.

John Obielodan is an associate professor of mechanical engineering with design and manufacturing experience in the automotive sector. His research is focused on development of novel materials using additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing.

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

Project name – Casein and whey have been shown to have unique polymer properties for commercial applications. The project will explore the idea of converting casein in waste milk and whey from cheese byproducts to make filaments for the 3D printing sector. Casein holds 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 show 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 the project could create new demand for milk and milk-protein products and a new way to use spoiled or bacteria-contaminated milk and protein waste from processing facilities. That could potentially help farmers and communities avoid financial losses and disposal.

The state of Wisconsin is investing $1 million in the Dairy Innovation Hub in 2020, and $7.8 million per year in subsequent years. The objective is to harness research and development at UW-Madison, UW-Platteville and UW-River Falls 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. Visit for more information.

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Maria Woldt is the program manager for the Dairy Innovation Hub.

This article originally ran on Content Exchange

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