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Soil Whisperer

Amy Kaleita in fieldFrom the air or highway, America’s fruited plains present a uniform vista of vast abundance. Not to Amy Kaleita. The associate professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering at Iowa State University sees a “somewhat chaotic” array of micro-plots, each with unique hydrology, root depths, soil characteristics – all of them ripe opportunities for smart technology to enhance both sustainability and food production using “precision conservation.”

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Soil Biosolarization: Sustainable Weed Killer

seedlingIn this three-part activity, students in grades 5 to 7 act as agricultural engineers, learning about and testing the effectiveness of a sustainable pest-control technique that uses organic waste and sunlight rather than toxic chemicals to reduce weeds.

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Activity: Eyewitness to Evaporation

dust bowlIn this week-long activity, student teams in grades 5 – 7 study the effects of evaporation by observing and measuring the ongoing evaporation of water in pans that contain soil or other variables, then then assess what factors may affect evaporation.

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Drought Parches Over Half of U.S.

drought cornAs one of the worst droughts in decades continues to shrivel reservoirs and sear fields, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated more than half of all counties – 1,584 in 32 states – primary disaster areas this growing season. While the dry, hot spell has decimated agriculture, it also has strained the steel, asphalt, and other engineered parts of the nation’s infrastructure.

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Lesson: Tippy Tap Hand-Washer

tippyIn this service-learning activity, teams of students in grades 10-12 learn the basic principles of fluid dynamics by designing and testing a prototype system to pipe water from a storage tank to a Tippy Tap hand-washing station similar to inexpensive homemade devices used extensively in the developing world.

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Feature: Food-Safety Engineering

food safety techsRecent headlines about tainted cantaloupe are grim reminders that food is not always as safe as it looks or tastes. Despite a host of high-tech efforts, E. coli and other food-borne illnesses kill thousands of Americans each year. Now, researchers in the emerging field of food-safety engineering are developing ways to protect what we eat, from farm to table. Call it the Food Safety-Engineering Network.

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Feature: Here a Bot, There a Bot

AgribotEver since Virginia inventor Cyrus McCormick perfected the mechanical reaper in the 1830s, engineers have sought ways to grow more food using fewer people. Now, they’re close to taking Old MacDonald off the farm altogether. Meet the agribot, already in use harvesting hard-to-pick edibles.

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After School Engineering, Purdue U., Fall 2010 – Spring 2011

purdue

Purdue University’s “Innovation 2 Reality” (I2R) features three FREE 5-week after-school programs for 6th-8th grade students in Fall 2010 and Spring 2011 focused on the themes: Engineering and Our Changing Climate (Oct. 17 – Nov. 10), Edible Engineering (Jan. 13 – Feb. 10), and The Energy Game (Feb. 8-March 8 ) The programs offer a combination of faculty guest speakers, lab tours and hands-on engineering activities.

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