Workshop topics

Workshop brings together scientists, farmers to solve agricultural problems | Local News

PITTSBURG, Kan. – A group of scientists, county extension workers, area universities and Pittsburgh high school students worked together to develop solutions to real-world problems in agriculture after attending a recent three-day workshop.

The second Farmers Accelerating Research in Materials Science, or FARMS, is a collaborative workshop that brings together problem solvers and agricultural workers in one place to help create a better future through advances in plastics and polymers.

Researchers have heard directly from farmers about the day-to-day challenges facing the agriculture industry today and are developing plans to help solve them.

This year’s FARMS workshop was held in late February in Parsons and Pittsburg. The keynote speaker was Paul Hughes, Assistant Secretary for Business Development for the Kansas Department of Commerce.

Pittsburgh State University Kansas Polymer Research Center led the workshop in partnership with K-State County extension officers, as well as representatives from two leading polymer science centers: the Macromolecules Innovation Institute at Virginia Tech and the Biodesign Center for Sustainable Macromolecular Materials and Manufacturing. at Arizona State.

“This program started with us and Virginia Tech in 2020, and although it was canceled last year due to the pandemic, it continues to grow,” said Kansas executive director Tim Dawsey. Polymer Research Center of PSU. “Arizona State is now interested, and we plan to have Wichita State next year.”

Dawsey said the workshop teaches scientists what they may not know about growing crops or animals, with a focus on how to solve key problems through materials science. . It also allows universities to engage in one place with other educational institutions that would otherwise be hundreds of miles away.

“We really learn from farmers, and there have been a lot of great lessons,” Dawsey said. “Recycling and waste are always constant problems, as well as pesticides and herbicides. … We’ve made a whole list of topics that have been divided into buckets, and then we’ll sort out who’s interested in what, collaborate, and write funding proposals to spur research in those areas.

Dawsey said the goal is to start the research process by collecting samples of various plastics used in agriculture, identifying those materials and creating a database that lists information on the materials, cost and problems encountered in agriculture.

“Hopefully we can report progress at our workshop next year,” Dawsey said.

Abby Whittington, associate professor at Virginia Tech, was the representative from the University of Blacksburg, Virginia during the workshop. She is also the director of the graduate program in Macromolecular Science and Engineering, an interdisciplinary program around macromolecules, polymers, plastics and adhesives.

“We train students in the full range of polymers – from synthesis and processing to characterization and application,” she said. “Students are really exposed to the fields of polymers, plastics and adhesives, what their applications can be used for, how to manufacture them and characterize them.”

Workshop participants had the opportunity to tour the Kansas Polymer Research Center at PSU. The center has internationally recognized competence in research on biobased polymers, with a strong focus on polyurethanes.

Whittington’s research interests include polymers for drug delivery in medical and agricultural applications. She said the workshop was beneficial for everyone involved.

“I have expertise in how polymers interact with animals and humans,” she said. “When I heard about this workshop from fellow faculty member Tim Long, I was very excited to get out there and hear firsthand what the producer’s real issues were. Because when you’re in the lab you can ask tons of questions, but sometimes if you’re not around you don’t see what’s going on. It’s great to come and hear and know that I’m using certain technologies and polymers in my lab and it’s possible to translate them into real problems that can help someone.

University officials and county extension workers were joined by four Pittsburg High School seniors who are enrolled in the district’s LAUNCH program, a combined effort between the Pittsburg School District and the area Chamber of Commerce. of Pittsburgh to help high school students find career paths. LAUNCH stands for Local Apprenticeships Uniting a Network of Colleges and High Schools.

LAUNCH is a partner of the Center for Advanced Professional Studies Network, which focuses on project-based opportunities for students.

“Our students are selected for the LAUNCH program, and they partner with businesses or organizations in the city of Pittsburgh to problem solve, research, and find solutions to real-world problems,” said Mindy Cloninger. , Director of Community Partnerships for LAUNCH. .

The four high school students took part in a planning discussion on Friday where groups worked on writing proposals for a variety of issues like how to safely recycle hay bale nets.

“When people use hay nets, they get left in the fields or they burn them, which is bad for the environment,” said Jourdain Granere, a 17-year-old high school student from Pittsburgh High School. “We’re trying to figure out what we need to do to get them back to us, so we can recycle and reuse them. Hay nets are made from polymers and we are working on how to make them more biodegradable. One thing we’ve learned is that we can’t make them biodegrade too fast.

Cloninger said the conference was beneficial and relevant for the students as many have families who are agricultural producers.

“It gives them the opportunity to learn more about an industry and the behind-the-scenes problem-solving process,” she said. “All of those problem-solving talks are transferable skills that they can and will use in just about any job setting they decide to pursue.”