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Crossing Engineering with Plant Sciences Leads to Comprehensive Research

Under the Missouri Transect project, two Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) faculty are incorporating their engineering expertise with plant science research.

December 11, 2014

Dr. Joel Burken explains Missouri S&T researchers’ role in the Missouri Transect, “We look to employ remote sensing methods to assess vegetation stress and changes on a much broader scale and to help understand current impacts to Missouri's forests and agriculture. Once changes are understood, we can help foresee future changes and help Missouri's agriculture and conservations efforts to best respond.” Dr. Burken, Associate Chair of the Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering Department and Dr. Zhaozheng Yin, Assistant Professor in Computer Science are both conducting research as part of the Missouri Transect Plant Team. Dr. Yin and his graduate students are developing several “robotic platforms to carry remote-sensing technologies to monitor the growth, development and environmental response of plants.” His lab will design “vision and learning algorithms…to analyze the long-term surveillance data so digital signatures of plants can be extracted and associated with genotypes and environment.” You can see the remote sensing technology at work on his website.

Watch his unmanned aerial vehicles at work on the MS&T campus.

Watch his copter fly in the copter cage, while its position is simultaneously tracked in 3D.

Yin has received media attention for other projects, such as his “multicopter” devices that assess bridge safety.

Dr. Burken will contribute to the Missouri Transect through his expertise in phytoforensics, phytoremediation, and natural treatment systems. Trees and other plants act as bioindicators of environmental pollutants. Through phytoforensic methods, wood and water samples from trees can be used to map and track groundwater chemistry. These techniques have not been contained to the lab or greenhouses; Dr. Burken has tested his methods with colleagues in 35 sites in six countries and nine states across the U.S.

Read more about his research in the article, “Nature’s Expert Witnesses: Plants Tell of Environmental Pollution.