IN THE NEWS: “Technology is bringing youth back to agriculture”

Weekly Times_Sig
Credits: Andy Rogers, The Weekly Times

As technology takes a forefront in our lives, this means its adoption in major industries; Agriculture included. From sensor technologies, mobile apps, and the training of biological sensors, all of which are integrated into farming systems, much can be done to aid in the challenges of climate change and the sustainability of future generations in Agriculture.

Thus, here’s Dr Sigfredo Fuentes’ piece on how technology is here to bring our future generations back to Agriculture (link below).

[The Weekly Times] Technology is bringing youth back to agriculture

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Part 3: What “maketh” a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne

20180208_124253(1).jpgAs we are confronted with climate change, real-world applications are needed to combat the variability it brings to our lands and people. This includes the effects of bushfire smoke contamination in vineyards on the quality of wine produced, and the sustainable production of nutritious vegetables using soilless systems as a result of reduced arable land.

Thus, for the final instalment of “What maketh a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne”, we present two PhD candidates taking on the challenge of detecting smoke contamination in vineyards, and developing sustainable soilless culture systems.


Vicky Summerson
Wine Science
The development of an in-field detection system for the assessment of smoke contamination in grapevines using near-infrared spectroscopy and infrared thermography

If she were to narrate her journey into a PhD…
PP_VickyAfter several years working as a community pharmacist, I realised my real passion was in research, and while working with drugs was fascinating, I much preferred working with plants. I then decided to go back to university to study agricultural science, and it was here I met Dr Sigfredo Fuentes who introduced me to remote sensing which I found fascinating. I also learnt about the increasing issue of smoke taint faced by winemakers, and the potential for remote sensing to overcome this problem. At the recommendation of my supervisor, I applied for and was then accepted to undertake a PhD.

On what influenced her pathway choice…
After studying my Master of Agricultural Science, I discovered that very little research had been done to investigate smoke contamination in grapevines. Considering the rise in global temperatures and the subsequent increase in the number of bushfires throughout the world, I felt grapevine smoke contamination will continue to increase. This motivated me to select his topic for my PhD as I believe more research is required to help grape growers.

On how her motivations have evolved from day one…
When I first started studying agricultural science it was because I was very interested in this area. After finishing my master’s degree and embarking on a PhD, I now aspire to make a positive contribution to the field of agriculture through the use of remote sensing. I believe remote sensing has huge potential in the agricultural sector, from the detection of smoke contamination in grapevines to the detection of crop diseases and nutrient deficiencies.

And the real-world applications of her findings…
I hope my findings provide growers with a detection system they can use in-field to assess whether their grapes have been tainted with smoke. This will help growers save thousands of dollars by preventing the use of smoke affected grapes which results in unpalatable and unsellable wine.

Vicky is aiming to complete her PhD by 2022.
Connect with her on LinkedIn and ResearchGate.


Mahya Tavan
Agricultural/Plant Science
Soilless Culture Systems

If she narrated her journey into her PhD…
PP_MahyaWorking in a commercial hydroponic glasshouse in my home country, I was always interested in doing research on soilless culture systems. I found it a fairly new technique with so many unanswered questions and of course with a lot of potential for improvements. As I moved to Australia, I realised that with the agriculture industry being one of the major economic sectors, this country could be a good host for my research on soilless culture and the future of the food.

On whether her past education influenced her pathway choice…
Yes, indeed. I have done my undergraduate studies in horticultural sciences and my PhD is completely relevant to that field. Being engaged with research and studying about plants during that time, I decided to continue my education in the same discipline.

On how her motivations have evolved since starting her PhD…
At first, I mostly wanted to develop my professional knowledge in the field of agriculture and plant sciences particularly in order to improve my employability in that area. However, over the course of one year that I’ve been into my PhD, I realized that agriculture as a multidisciplinary field of study requires knowledge and expertise beyond plant sciences. For this reason, I am now more inspired to learn skills by collaborating with scientists from various disciplines such as computer programing, mathematics, human nutrition, etc.

And the real-world applications of her findings…
The findings of my research can be specifically applied in vegetable production sectors such as hydroponic farms and urban cultivation setups. It will also generate a good database for nutrition and food specialists to refer to.

Mahya is aiming to complete her PhD between 2020-21.
Connect with her on LinkedIn.


And with this, we conclude our three-part series on the individuals behind the Science of consumables and real-world applications to combat climate change! Check out the other parts of our  What maketh a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne” below:

What “maketh” a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne: Part 2

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Last week, the Vineyard of the Future had three PhD candidates – with topics on beer, wine, and chocolate – narrate their journey, background, motivations, and how their findings would be applied in the real-world. And this week, we present to you our second instalment with PhD candidates exploring our choices in chocolates, drought tolerance in lentils, and non-invasive stress detection technologies in beef cattle.


Thejani Gunaratne
Sensory Science
Development and implementation of new tools in sensory evaluation of chocolates based on human emotions, biometrics, and machine learning

In narrating her journey into a PhD…
pp_thejani1.jpgI cast my mind back to about two years ago when I was overwhelmed upon receiving an email confirming that I was offered a scholarship to start a PhD at The University of Melbourne, together with my twin sister. Doing well in Academics since primary school initiated my mother to drive me through to the path of starting a PhD. It was my passion to conduct research in the field of food science and I am glad that my research is on what I love to do, especially in my favourite University and the country I wished to study in!!

On how her background shaped her choice…
I passed BSc (Special) in Food Science and Technology with First Class Honours in Sri Lanka and was awarded the 2nd best student in the University graduating list with a GPA of 3.94 out 4.0. This achievement encouraged me to apply for a scholarship to start a PhD in Australia. The educational background I had at home since childhood due to my mother’s and father’s academic professions also helped me in following this pathway. Also, I saw that there were opportunities in the field I conducted my undergraduate degree in, which motivated me even more in applying for a PhD.

On how her motivations have evolved since taking on her PhD…
I always had a passion in doing a PhD. Therefore, I was highly motivated since I got the great opportunity in starting it in one of the world’s most prestigious universities. With time, I realised the importance of my study for future researchers as well as in the commercial field, especially food companies interested in implementing novel sensory techniques prior to market introduction of new food products. My motivations have been high since I started my PhD till today, and I am planning to continue doing so until I complete it successfully.

And the real-world applications of her research work…
My findings can be used in the academic field as well as in the commercial field. I am developing novel tools for sensory evaluation of food products based on human emotions, biometrics, and machine learning algorithms. This will help future researchers conducting studies on sensory analysis and also benefit the food sector.

Thejani is currently completing her 2nd year of candidature, and will be finishing in February 2019.
Connect with her on LinkedIn, Research Gate, and UoM.


Sajitha Biju
Plant Science
Physiological and biochemical responses of lentil to silicon mediated drought tolerance

In narrating the story of her journey into a PhD…
PP_Sajitha
My research journey started two years ago at UoM. My research is focuses on exploring the physiological and biochemical mechanisms behind silicon-mediated drought stress tolerance in lentils. I owe this unique opportunity of studying at UoM, to the rigorous and nurturing experiences that I had as a student at the University of Kerala, India.  My mentor, Dr K Murugan, who taught me during my Masters in Botany inspired me a lot and planted the seeds of passion and curiosity about the field of ‘plant stress biology’ in me. And this journey would not have been possible without the support of my family.

On how her background played a role in influencing her pathway choice…
My experience as a student of Botany for five years – three in Bachelors and two in Masters – and as a college lecturer and researcher for four years in India, was academically stimulating and furthered my passion for academia both personally and professionally.

On how her motivations have been shaped…
My research journey started with excitement, surprises, and challenges. When I arrived on UoM’s campus, I was a bit nervous. But once I sat down for my first meeting with my supervisors, I relaxed. My passion for research has improved over the years due to the opportunities I have been blessed with here at UoM. I learned so many new things within and outside my research area. I feel that I have gained many skills that will be invaluable to the future career I will pursue. These include the ability to investigate and think critically, communicate effectively, and have good time management and multi-tasking skills. Attending international conferences also helped me in networking, sharing, and learning new ideas. My confidence was again boosted when I got the prestigious GRDC (Grain Research Development Corporation, Victoria) scholarship, best presentation award in the post-graduate symposium and inter-drought travel grant from the University of Western Australia. I must add that it is a privilege for me to learn from my experienced and dedicated supervisors, namely Dr. Dorin Gupta and Dr. Sigfredo Fuentes, who greatly influence my love for research.

And the real-world applications of her research….
Drought stress is a major stress affecting crop production in Australia and overseas that is expected to worsen in the coming years. In this scenario, my research is highly relevant as it illustrates the complex mechanisms behind drought stress in lentils, a nutritious legume rich in protein, and explains how the mineral element silicon can be used as a tool for enhancing the drought stress tolerance in this crop. The findings will definitely ensure a step towards global food security in this era of climate change.

Sajitha will be completing her research in February 2019 and plans to pursue post doctoral research whilst maintaining her career as a scientist/lecturer in the future.
Connect with her on Research Gate, Loop, and ORCID.


Maria Fernanda Jorquera
Animal Science
Implementing non-invasive methods to assess physiological responses of cattle during slaughter and the relationship with the quality of beef

In narrating the story of her journey into a PhD…
PP_MariaMy journey into a PhD started with the thesis of my Masters at UoM. When my thesis project was in the planning stage I met Dr Sigfredo Fuentes, who mentioned the biometric technology he was implementing in humans and this gave me the idea of trying it out during my project, which was performed on a dairy farm. During this project, I discovered that I enjoyed research, and that I would see myself as a researcher in the future. With this, the idea of a PhD came to my mind. After this project successfully showed possible applications in cattle, Dr Sigfredo Fuentes and Ellen Jongman gave me the opportunity of continuing my research as a PhD student. Later, Robyn Warner and Frank Dunshea came on board with a MLA project that was interested on using this non-invasive methods to assess physiological responses to stress in beef cattle. As such, I hope to be able to contribute with this research.

On how her background played a role in influencing her pathway choice…
My background has totally influenced my pathway. Since I decided to go for the veterinarian degree, I knew I wanted to have a future career related to animals. In addition, during my Masters, I confirmed this “joy” for researching areas related to animal wellbeing and animal production.

On whether her motivations have evolved since taking on her PhD…
My motivation at the beginning was basically to be involved in research and keep learning about animals and animal production. Upon starting my second year of PhD, my motivation has evolved and become clearer. My motivation is still related to increase my knowledge in these areas, but now it also involves the idea of being able to contribute with innovative techniques that could improve animal management. 

And the real-world applications of her research….
I really hope the findings of this research can help introduce non-invasive technologies that will be useful tools for farmers and animal producers.

Maria is aiming to conclude her PhD in her 3rd year.
Connect with her via LinkedIn and email.

And stay tune for our final instalment next week on what “maketh” a PhD candidate!

What “maketh” a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne: Part 1

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We often direct our questions and expect answers from our “educators”. But today, the Vineyard of the Future will explore the individuals behind the Science – “learners” who will be asking the questions and seeking the answers. As such, here is our first part on what “maketh” a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne (UoM), specifically in the science of beer, wine, and chocolate!


Claudia Gonzalez Viejo
Sensory Science
The effect of bubble formation within carbonated drinks on the brewage foamability, bubble dynamics, and sensory perception by consumers

In narrating her journey into a PhD…
PP_ClaudiaJust before I finished my Master of Food Science at UoM, and after listening to suggestions from my supervisor Dr Sigfredo Fuentes, I decided to apply for a PhD at the same university. I chose to continue the topic, with which I started working on during the last year of my Masters, into my PhD as I found that I could go further with the research about beer quality. Specifically, focusing on foamability and bubbles, if I combined the study of physical and chemical composition, and the consumer perception of it. Thus, I got accepted into the PhD and obtained a scholarship from the Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences (FVAS) in August 2016.

On how her background influenced her pathway choice…

My background totally influenced my pathway choice as I have an undergraduate degree in Food Industries Engineering and have previous working experience in areas such as quality assurance, new products development, and sensory evaluation in companies such as Coca-Cola FEMSA, OXXO, and Grupo Bimbo. This made me very interested in studying the Master of Food Science and a PhD focused on beer quality as I would be able to combine my food science, quality, sensory, product development, statistics and engineering skills.

On whether her motivations have evolved since taking on her PhD…

When I first started, my motivations were more related with my interests in the food science and engineering areas. However, as my PhD advanced, other motivations emerged. This includes the need to help the industry with new and more reliable methods to assess the quality of beverages and, therefore, ensure that they offer better products to consumers.

And the real-world applications of her research work…

Although focused on beer, the findings from my research, such as new methods and machine learning modelling, could be replicated for any carbonated beverages and implemented in the industry at the end of the production line. This would deliver rapid, reliable, and affordable methods for quality control and consumer acceptability.

Claudia will be completing her PhD by July 2019.
Connect with her on LinkedIn and Research Gate.


Wendy Cameron
Wine Science
Modelling adaptations of grapevines to climate change

In narrating her journey into a PhD…
pp_wendy-e1516672986844.jpgI decided to do my PhD after a long career as a winemaker. Having felt the impacts of climate change on grape growing and winemaking, I am keen to now research how increasing temperatures are impacting grapevine growth with the aim to develop predictive models for phenology (the major growth stages) that will help people in the wine industry be better prepared for climate change.

On her motivations for taking on her PhD…

My interest in wine and my concerns that “not enough” is being done generally to prepare us for continued climate change have influenced this choice. It has only been 4 months since I started my PhD but I am even more enthusiastic now.

And the real-world applications of her research work…

If I am successful in developing models so that Viticulturists can better predict and therefore plan for the major growth stages in the vines’ development, it should enable them to manage their vineyards more efficiently and profitably, help them plan what varieties to plant, and also where they could plant new vineyards.

Wendy will be finishing her PhD by September 2021.
Connect with her on LinkedIn.


Nadeesha Gunaratne
Sensory Science
Use of biometrics and modelling strategies to identify the effects of design features in chocolate packaging towards the taste experience

In narrating her journey into a PhD…
pp_nadeesha-e1516673108882.jpgMy PhD is an interdisciplinary research involving consumer research and Sensory Science. I am working on how chocolate packages can affect consumer taste perceptions and their purchase intentions, using biometrics to capture the unconscious response of consumers, and developing machine learning models. My supervisors are the pillar behind my success during my PhD and they have been guiding me throughout; from the selection of the topic until now. The brave decision of taking up the challenge of doing a PhD was mainly due to my mother’s belief that me, together with my twin sister were smart enough to proceed through it.

On how her background played a role in her pathway choice…

It was the proudest day in my life when I was awarded two gold medals as the best student in my undergraduate studies; BSc (Sp) Food Science and Technology with a record GPA of 4.0 out of 4.0 and a First Class Honours. I was also awarded the best research conducted during my Honours Bachelor’s degree. The excellent results obtained during my undergraduate studies motivated me to apply for a scholarship at the prestigious UoM. I was fortunate enough to be accepted to UoM with a full research scholarship funded by the Australian Government.

On whether her motivations have evolved since taking on her PhD…

Doing a PhD was a passion I had within me. I have always kept my motivations high throughout my PhD since I started it until now. I create my own deadlines and make sure I meet them. I try to be very disciplined on meeting those deadlines. Time management is very important in accomplishing these goals, and my father’s guidance has been vital in this aspect. Work life balance plays a major role in being motivated throughout my PhD too. I enjoy life and attend social functions and meet with friends. But I make sure that I am completely focused when working. Also, talking about what I work on with others, tracking my progress, and celebrating my successes has motivated me.

And the real-world applications of her research work…

Assessment of potential acceptability of food products in the market is critical to their success. Packaging is the first visual impression of food products, which significantly determines consumer’s likelihood of purchasing. My findings can be applied in the food industry to design food packages and allow marketers to provide a better product to the market to attract consumer attention.

Nadeesha will be completing her PhD in February 2019.
Connect with her on Linkedin, Research Gate, and UoM.

Stay tune for our next three PhD candidates in Animal Science, Plant Science, and Sensory Science!

New Technology Applications for Agriculture: Going Beyond Awareness

Whether you are a student, farmer, corporate person, or policy maker, you are most likely aware that the Earth is changing, and not always for the better. Take the rise of the Earth’s global surface temperature since 1880 through today as an example. Our Earth is “redder” and “most of the warming has occurred in the past 35 years” (NASA, 2017).

Five-Year Global Temperature Anomalies from 1880 to 2016 (NASA, 2017)

Whilst global warming is the “big picture” on how the Earth is changing, our day-to-day life is also being affected, in terms of what we consume. For most of us, our food comes from the local market or food vendors. However, its main source is derived from farms that are facing climate-related challenges such as extreme weather events, pests and diseases, which require quick adaptations. And if farms cannot adapt, our food supply chain may be disrupted.

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Thus, since 2012, the Vineyard of the Future (VoF), has aimed to establish a fully-instrumented vineyard using the Internet of Things (IoT) such as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), remote sensors, and apps. It has also acted as a test-bed for new technology applications and investigated the potential effects of climate change in different agricultural fields. To date, the VoF has worked on practical solutions such as:

  • The free VitiCanopy App that analyses the leaf area index and canopy porosity of grapevines, whereby its parameters can be related to berry quality parameters such as anthocyanin content and polyphenols.
  • Precision viticulture using UAVs for data collection on how grapevines are affected by abiotic factors (post-effect) such as frosts (Baofeng et al., 2016).
  • Biological sensors (dogs) to detect different compounds of interests, and pests such as phylloxera in viticulture (Fuentes & De Bei, 2016).
  • Robotic pourers and computer vision techniques to assess the quality traits of sparkling wines/beers based on foamability and bubble dynamics (Fuentes & De Bei, 2016).
  • The BIOSENSORY app that decodes consumer behaviour using facial biometrics, as our physiological response to stimuli is before our verbalisation of it.

In addition, new technology applications are also being developed for specific monitoring, and these include:

  • The early (pre-effect) detection on frost damage assessments in vineyards.
  • A pilot app for apples to detect sunburn risks and model final fruit-size during harvest time.
  • The detection of smoke contamination in vineyards, whereby the smoke-related compound guaiacol glycoconjugates results in undesirable aromas and flavours in wine (Fuentes & Tongson, 2017).
  • The use of non-invasive remote sensing to assess meat quality, whereby biometrics such as breathing patterns, body temperature, and heart-rate, are used to quantify the stress levels of cows.

As such, this list provides a snapshot of the VoF’s main projects in viticulture, fruit production, sensory science and animal science. Nevertheless, the end-goal remains, and that is for these solutions to be transferable to all fields of agriculture.

Remote Sensing Figure 3
A diagram representing how UAVs and remote sensing can be used to detect smoke contamination in vineyards (Fuentes & Tongson, 2017).

References

Baofeng, S., Jinru, X., Chunyu, X., Yulin, F., Yuyang, S. and Fuentes, S., 2016. Digital surface model applied to unmanned aerial vehicle based photogrammetry to assess potential biotic or abiotic effects on grapevine canopies. International Journal of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, 9(6), p.119.

Fuentes, S. and De Bei, R., 2016. Innovations and technology: Advances of the Vineyard of the Future initiative in viticultural, sensory science and technology development. Wine & Viticulture Journal, 31(3), p.53.

Fuentes, S. and Tongson, E., 2017. Vinyard technology: Advances in smoke contamination detection systems for grapevine canopies and berries. Wine & Viticulture Journal, 32(3), p.36.

NASA, 2017. Scientific Visualization Studio. [Online] Available at: https://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/4546 [Accessed 11 December 2017].