We had some visitors on Monday! Over 40 seventh graders from AGWSR (Ackley, Geneva, Wellsburg, Steamboat Rock) visited Agronomy Hall as part of a visit to Iowa State University organized by the North Central hub of IowaSTEM. The students learned about what we do here at agronomy, from wind turbines impact on agriculture to bioenergy to the change in global climate.
In addition, we visited Dr. Marshall McDaniel's soils lab where graduate student Teresa Middleton explained her research using tea bags to study microbes as a function of soil health, a project they could do themselves! She passed around samples from the previous project "Soil Your Undies" where McDaniel buried white cotton underwear to see the decomposition in a variety of soil and land management conditions. Naturally, it was a big hit with the seventh graders.
They learned why soil health is important, not just for yield and growing more food, but also for environmental impacts like water quality. Teresa shared some of her background which started with animals but she soon realized soil was important even to animals. So we had a great conversation about all of the collaborations happening between soil scientists and people studying animals, computer engineering, mechanical engineering, ag and biosystems engineering and math (among many others) to help improve the process of growing crops and doing so while trying to better conserve our environment and natural resources.
By a stroke of luck, the plant breeding lab was buzzing with activity so the group was able to pop in and expand on their recent understanding of Mendel's early work in plant breeding. Mendel looked at initially defining various traits and now plant breeders are working to cross different species of plants to make the best use of those traits in various situations and land management applications. Using roots as an example, the group learned how some species of plants may have shallow roots or deep roots which might impact how those crops do in various situations. Research actually happening in our department with soybeans!
It was a great visit. Hopefully we inspired some of them to think about a career in STEM. There may even be a future agronomist in the group!
K-12 classes and school groups are always welcome visit or skype with a scientist to learn more about what we do here. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you're interested in bringing Agronomy into your classroom.