Food and Water Security

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Engineering sustainable solutions to tackle the global crisis of food and water insecurity.

Confronting the growing challenges in food and water security

Our work applies engineering and science principles to develop sustainable solutions for more robust and resilient agricultural, food and water systems.

How can we sustain our food and water supply under a growing global population, increasing costs, rising poverty levels and the effects of climate change? The challenges the world faces in food and water security are escalated by rapidly varying conditions

of the supply chain a changing climate that threatens crop production and soil productivity, toxins filtering through our water supply and aquatic systems, health and environmental impacts of food waste, and foodborne illnesses.

Our faculty, students and staff are particularly focused in solving complex problems at the interface between better prediction of climate, plants adaptation to climate change, effective use of agricultural water to mitigate climate’s impact on agriculture, precise delivery of pesticide and fertilizers, soil regeneration, and materials-based innovation to enhance food security and food safety.

Key areas include:

  • Food & agriculture, e.g.: foodborne diseases, Bacterial viruses as pathogen control agents in aquaculture systems; Gravity fingering during water infiltration in soil: Impact on the resilience of crops and vegetation in water-stressed ecosystems
  • Water, e.g. the SMART Center for Environmental Sensing and Modeling (CENSAM)
  • Structural biopolymers and biomaterials for precision agriculture, food security and food safety
  • Bio-inspired and biodegradable materials that mitigate environmental impact
  • Sustainable agriculture
  • Plant-water relations
  • Plant ecology and evolution
  • Hydrology

Example of class offerings

Introduction to Hydrology and Water Resources

Water in the environment; Water resource systems; The hydrologic cycle at its role in the climate system; Surface water and energy balance; evaporation and transpiration through vegetation; Precipitation formation, infiltration, storm runoff, and flood processes; Groundwater aquifers, subsurface flow and the hydraulics of wells.

Groundwater Hydrology

Presents the fundamentals of subsurface flow and transport, emphasizing the role of groundwater in the hydrologic cycle, the relation of groundwater flow to geologic structure, and the management of contaminated groundwater. Topics include Darcy equation, flow nets, mass conservation, the aquifer flow equation, heterogeneity and anisotropy, storage properties, regional circulation, unsaturated flow, recharge, stream-aquifer interaction, well hydraulics, flow through fractured rock, numerical models, groundwater quality, contaminant transport processes, dispersion, decay, and adsorption. Includes laboratory and computer demonstrations. Students taking graduate version complete additional assignments.

Land, Water, Food, and Climate

Examines land, water, food, and climate in a changing world, with an emphasis on key scientific questions about the connections between natural resources and food production. Students read and discuss papers on a range of topics, including water and land resources, climate change, demography, agroecology, biotechnology, trade, and food security. Supporting information used for background and context includes data and analysis based on government reports, textbooks, and longer peer-reviewed documents not included in the readings. Provides a broad perspective on one of the defining global issues of this century. Students carry out exercises with relevant data sets, write critiques of key issues, and complete a focused term project. Students taking graduate version complete additional assignments.

Materials in Agriculture, Food Security, and Food Safety

Offers a unique perspective on the interplay between advanced materials, agriculture and food. Illustrates the impact that advanced materials-based innovation is imparting to four key areas of agriculture: management of plant diseases, mitigation of saline soil, enhancement of crop yield and productivity, and food safety and food security. Exposes students to engineering design concepts that are germane to biopolymer processing, functionalization and characterization, which will be coupled with hands-on activity in a lab setting. Students regenerate, process and functionalize biopolymers from raw to advanced materials, paving the way for the second part of the class, which centers around a proposed research project that aims at bringing materials-based innovation into agriculture.

Aquatic Chemistry

Quantitative treatment of chemical processes in aquatic systems such as lakes, oceans, rivers, estuaries, groundwaters, and wastewaters. A brief review of chemical thermodynamics is followed by discussion of acid-base, precipitation-dissolution, coordination, and reduction-oxidation reactions. Emphasis is on equilibrium calculations as a tool for understanding the variables that govern the chemical composition of aquatic systems and the fate of inorganic pollutants.

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