Coral reefs in the Florida Keys, Caribbean and throughout the world are in dramatic decline. Kylie Smith, a graduate student from Clemson, has made it her mission to help restore one of the ocean’s most endangered species.
The Clemson family has gained a new namesake: Legionella clemsonensis, a novel strain of the Legionella bacteria, the most common cause of waterborne bacterial outbreaks in the United States.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gave the honor of naming L. clemsonensis to students in a collaborative research group called CU and the CDC, which includes students from Clemson’s Creative Inquiry (CI) program for undergraduate students and officials in the CDC Legionella lab.
The newly named strain of Legionella was part of a batch of 68 strains the CDC sent to Clemson students to analyze. “While we knew they were Legionella, they didn’t match up to anything in the current database of bacterial species. It’s like knowing their last name but not their first names,” said Tamara McNealy, an associate professor of biological sciences who forged the collaboration with Claressa Lucas, director of the CDC Legionella lab, to characterize unknown Legionella strains.
Undergraduates in the CI group — Joseph Painter, Kyle Toth, Kasey Remillard, Rayphael Hardy and Scott Howard — sequenced two genes at the Clemson University Genomics Institute to identify the species or to find out if they were novel. “One of the strains Joseph was assigned turned out to be novel or not significantly matching anything in the database,” McNealy said.
A second wave of students, including Hayley Hassler, a junior, and Allie Palmer, a master’s student in McNealy’s lab, along with Vince Richards, an assistant professor in the biological sciences department, worked to validate that L. clemsonensis does indeed fall separately from the other known Legionella strains.“My experience in this CI has really allowed me to explore areas of microbiology that I wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise,” Hassler said. “Thanks to Dr. McNealy and Dr. Richards I now have a real passion for studying infectious diseases and microbial genomics.”
According to the CDC, L. clemsonensis was originally isolated from a patient in Ohio. Preliminary analysis showed it was not L. pneumophila, the most commonly identified pathogen in the group, and that it didn’t fall into any known grouping, McNealy said. Another feature that set this strain apart: When hit with ultraviolet light, many Legionella strains fluoresce blue, red or yellow, but L. clemsonensis fluoresced green.
If Legionella is inhaled by someone who is elderly or immunocompromised it could lead to a treatable form of pneumonia. The bacteria live in biofilms of all manmade water systems and are found in freshwater lakes, streams and rivers. Around 4,000 to 5,000 cases of waterborne bacterial outbreaks are reported annually in the U.S., an estimate that is probably low, McNealy said.
The attached photo is of the 2015-2016 Steel Bridge Team atop the “Y” in Provo, Utah. The “Y” is a famous landmark for students and alumni at BYU. We were there competing in the ASCE National Competition of Steel Bridge Teams. There were 48 schools from 5 different countries. Our team took first place in the regional competition (for the second year in a row) back at the end of March to earn our position at Nationals. We took 23rd out of 48 this year at Nationals, of course we expected nothing less than #1! Nevertheless that was the result and we are honored to have had the opportunity to attend.
The Steel Bridge Team is a creative inquiry for Civil Engineering majors. We designed, fabricated, and painted the bridge all on our own. Which is not all that common among all the schools in the nation believe it or not. A lot of schools contract professional fabricators or machine shops to design and build their bridges. However, we as Clemson students hold ourselves to the highest standard, “The Best”.
In the picture the members are (from left to right): Dr Weichiang Pang (advisor), David McCullough 16′, Jonathon Broyles 18′, Joe Capriola 16′, Nathan Flaugher 17′, Mike Chute 16′, Shawn Waters 16′, Tom Sharp 17′, Ryan Hull 17′, and Nick Andryusky 17′. Not pictured are Nora 16′ and Taif Albayati 18′. They were unable to attend because they were visiting family out of the country, but are still very much apart of the team.
Some links about the competition, the “Y”, and our Facebook page if you are interested.
Innovation isn’t always creating a new, flashy product. Sometimes it’s taking something that already exists and finding a different or more efficient way to use the same product.
This idea, this intersection of form and function, is where science and the humanities come together. It’s also the place where universities like Clemson can allow students to stretch boundaries and truly innovate without the obstacles that often face companies — cost, time, bureaucracy of the process.
“It’s not just about making the machine, it’s also about seeing how people are going to use the product,” said David Blakesley, the Campbell Chair for Technical Communication and professor of English. He works extensively with students on the future of the traditional book — what forms it will take, how it will be published and how it will be read.
GIVING SHAPE TO IDEAS
Building on the idea of innovation while allowing for creativity is integral in Clemson’s new MBA in Entrepreneurship and Innovation (MBAe) program, which just graduated its inaugural class from the one-year program.
Designed for individuals who want to start their own companies, the program attracts students who come with a business idea, and then they spend the year networking, developing and refining their idea in the effort to graduate with a market-ready company.
“One of the primary goals of the MBA in Entrepreneurship and Innovation is to ensure that we incorporate a bias for creativity, experimentation and innovation,” said Greg Pickett, associate dean and director of the Clemson MBA program. “Just as an entrepreneurial mindset encourages big ideas, the knowledge gained from our unique curriculum provides students the real-life tools necessary to bring ideas to the marketplace.”
Starting a company wasn’t even a consideration for May MBAe graduate Riley Csernica when she began her undergraduate career at Clemson in bioengineering in 2008. “I kind of stumbled upon it and really liked taking charge and being creative,” she said.
What started out as an idea for a capstone project for her senior design class is now being made into a full-fledged business. She and her group mates were paired with a clinician from Greenville Health System, and from discussions with him, they created a shoulder stabilization brace for athletes and active individuals who experience recurring shoulder instability issues.
With idea in hand, Csernica entered the MBAe program — and now she and one of her original group members have begun Tarian Orthotics. They’ve already received a $50,000 National Science Foundation I-CORPS award as well as $7,500 from the Clemson EnterPrize Awards, the MBAe capstone business pitch competition. They have worked through the Clemson University Research Foundation (CURF), which promotes technology transfer of Clemson intellectual property, to file a provisional patent on the brace.
“There are definitely good days and bad days — there aren’t really any rule books we can look into for answers,” she said. “But through this program, we now have an idea of where we’re going and who to talk to. It was a great time for me to be able to focus on what we are trying to do big picture.”
BUILDING A CABINET OF CURIOSITY
Using an approach to education that fosters innovation, Clemson’s Creative Inquiry program immerses undergraduates in the research process. Students work in teams with faculty mentors, take ownership of their projects and assume the intellectual risks necessary to solve problems and get answers. Team-based investigations are led by a faculty mentor and typically span two to four semesters.
Creative Inquiry students develop critical-thinking skills, learn to solve problems and hone their communication and presentation skills, alongside getting to work on incredible projects with entrepreneurial prospects.
When Greenville Health System Children’s Hospital expressed the need for a pediatric arm stabilizer that could be used to facilitate blood draws from young patients, a Creative Inquiry class took the idea and worked for two years on a solution. The project team included 12 students majoring in mechanical engineering, nursing, bioengineering, business and general engineering, and CURF has since filed a provisional patent for the invention.
In a recent agricultural mechanization Creative Inquiry project, students converted a four-passenger electric golf cart into a teaching platform by building and designing a powertrain and utilizing a diesel engine with hydrostatic transmission. The students incorporated GPS guidance and variable rate controllers.
“We can now demonstrate agricultural power and machinery principles in addition to precision agriculture technologies in a more efficient and student-centered manner,” said Kendall Kirk, agricultural and biological engineering research assistant.
Clemson’s charge from the very beginning has been to innovate and improve the field of agriculture. And while the study of agriculture is far from new, researchers’ work is never done.
A team of professors and students in the agricultural mechanization and business program has designed and implemented technologies that allow a zero turn mower — a standard riding lawn mower that has a turning radius that’s effectively zero inches — to use its existing hydraulic circuit to power cylinder and motor–actuated implements. It can also operate accessory attachments such as log splitters, scrape blades, wood chippers, leaf blowers and others.
“This technology substantially increases the versatility of zero turn mowers and eliminates the need for additional internal combustion engines to drive accessories,” Kirk said.
As part of a horticulture class, students Malisia Wilkins and Allison Kelley recently tackled the idea of vertical gardening as a way to feed the hungry in small-space urban environments. Vertical gardening involves a simple structure, built vertically, that doesn’t require soil and retains water. To build one, they upcycled several standard wooden pallets and outfitted them with materials found at your average hardware store.
“When it came to designing the vertical garden, our first priority, beyond feeding people, was sustainability; our second priority was to design something inexpensive and easy to build,” they wrote in their report.
The three prototypes of varying sizes were then filled with cilantro, bell peppers, Italian parsley, kale, basil, sweet marjoram, oregano, chard, micro-greens, lettuce, strawberries, thyme — all plants that grow at shallow soil depths and, more importantly, provide nutritional value and health benefits.
“We believe that by educating individual families to produce on a micro-scale, we can work to eliminate food insecurities and hunger,” they said.
SPRINGBOARD FOR INNOVATION
Partnerships with Greenville Health System (GHS) and private corporations are helping drive innovation in the classroom as well as the business sector. From advanced materials to bioengineering, recent academic innovations have given rise to commercially applicable medical advancements.
These advancements are fueled by the 20-year partnership between the College of Engineering and Science and GHS, and more recently, the opening of the Clemson University Biomedical Engineering Innovation Campus (CUBEInC) on the Patewood medical campus. This facility includes translational research laboratories that focus on cardiovascular and orthopedic engineering. CUBEInC enables the translation of high-impact medical technology and devices from the laboratory to bedside, providing numerous opportunities for entrepreneurial pursuits.
“GHS is a wonderful partner for Clemson,” said Martine LaBerge, bioengineering department chair. “Where Clemson has a comprehensive understanding of biomaterials, the hospital system is the go-to organization in Upstate South Carolina for medicine and surgery. When these areas of expertise are combined, there exists a real opportunity to make a difference in the quality of life of the people of our state.”
Using CUBEInC as a springboard for innovation, assistant professor John DesJardins and colleagues have mentored two recent senior biomedical engineering design projects that have development technologies destined for the marketplace — one of those being the newly formed Tarian Orthotics.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Innovation and change happening in Clemson classrooms isn’t just affecting industry and business, but the future of teaching and classrooms.
“It’s so important for teachers to be able to think creatively and to be able to inspire this thinking in their students because they are charged with educating young people for an unknown future in a digital, global world that requires students to be literate across an interweaving media — from written text to the body to digital imagery to sound,” said Alison Leonard, assistant professor of arts and creativity.
To address this, she has created the Arts and Creativity Lab in Godfrey Hall, which was physically and aesthetically designed to cultivate creative and artistic thinking. The design of the space, along with the pedagogy of the class, nurtures ideas among students.
“We cannot continue to train teachers the same way that many of us were taught. The world is different,” Leonard said. “Ways of communicating continually are changing, and young students are literate in ways that are so multifaceted and mediated, that being flexible, creative, able to function and communicate effectively across cultures, contexts and media is essential.”
The same goes for long-standing products like books. In Blakesley’s class on the future of the book, his students approach creating a book in both traditional and non-traditional ways. Each has to think linearly across platforms — how will this read on the printed page? How will it read on a tablet? What will make this more interactive? In the end, the whole process is scrambled, and the writer has to rethink the approach. A book is no longer just a book in the simplest sense of the word.
The consequences of such innovation is that long-standing roles and processes need to be changed, adapted or simply eliminated. And change is hard.
“I like to think of our students as ‘change agents,’” Blakesley said. “Down the road, they’ll be more capable and likely to bring about innovation in the workplace. And they’ll be better prepared to anticipate the cost and challenges because they’ve done this already, in the classroom.”
Clemson writers Ron Grant and Jonathan Veit contributed to this article.
Nine billion. That’s how many people will inhabit the earth by 2050. How do we feed nine billion people? How do we feed them well in a way that is both economically and environmentally sustainable? In a way that will make a profit and open new markets for farmers while leaving the planet a place where those nine billion people and their descendants will want to live?
These are some of the big questions being asked and answered by Clemson’s Sustainable Agriculture Program, the centerpiece of which is the Student Organic Farm (SOF), a 15-acre working organic farm and experiential teaching center dedicated to researching profitable, practical sustainable farming techniques that can benefit students and farmers across the state.
The history of the farm
In 2001, the area between Hartwell Lake and Perimeter Road known as “The Bottoms” was primarily being used to test row crop varieties and grow feed for livestock at the Clemson livestock farms.
A group of faculty from the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences (CAFLS) suggested the land be used to create a small market garden that would produce fruits, vegetables and flowers for sale to consumers on campus and in the local community.
That group of faculty included Geoff Zehnder, professor of entomology in the School of Agricultural, Forest and Environmental Sciences (SAFES) and director of Clemson’s Sustainable Agriculture Program.“We secured a USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education training grant and started with four 100-square-foot plots for vegetable production and four small areas for growing medicinal and edible herbs, blueberries and beneficial insect-attracting plants,” said Zehnder.
In 2005, the SOF earned its organic certification from the Organic Certification Program in Clemson’s Department of Plant Industry. Today, with funding from grants and produce sales through its Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, that former market garden is a productive organic farming operation and a showcase for sustainable farming techniques that advances Clemson’s land-grant heritage of teaching, research and extension and embodies Thomas Green Clemson’s founding vision of an agricultural college that would help the people of South Carolina prosper through instruction and outreach in the agricultural and natural sciences.
The SOF is located on land that is part of an area with a deep agricultural heritage and is now officially named “Calhoun Fields.” The land is said to have first been farmed by Cherokee Indians, then by John C. Calhoun and Clemson himself back in the days when a man’s gait was measured in furrows because he plowed his acreage walking behind a mule-drawn sodbuster. Back long before there was a university or before Clemson President Robert Cook Edwards (1958-1979) saved the land from inundation by Hartwell Lake.
Back in the days when the food we put on our tables and in our mouths was born of the sweat that stung our eyes and our own callused and mud-streaked hands.
What is sustainable agriculture?
Sustainable agriculture is more than just an abstract idea. The results of a strong sustainable agriculture operation are measurable as increased profitability, decreased farm debt and purchase of off-farm feed and fertilizer, and reduced reliance on government subsidies. This is accomplished by working with nature rather than against it.
On a perfect sustainable agriculture operation, there is no bare ground. Clean water flows through the farm’s ditches and streams. Wildlife is abundant and the farm landscape hosts a diversity of vegetation. Crops are diversified and plant and animal agriculture is integrated, reducing market risk and increasing profit. Solar energy is captured and used across the farm systems. The water cycle is managed in a way that reduces surface runoff, soil surface evaporation, and drought and flood incidence, and increases transpiration by plants and seepage into underground reservoirs. And a well-functioning mineral cycle moves nutrients from the soil through the crops and animals and back to the soil through on-farm feeding of livestock, thoughtful manure and crop residue management, and the use of catch crops to reduce nutrient-leaching losses.
The SOF aims to show Clemson agricultural and natural resources students and farmers across the state of South Carolina that, done right, sustainable farming can make more money for farmers, feed more people more efficiently, conserve natural resources and support surrounding businesses by circulating more dollars within the local economy.“The Student Organic Farm is a working farm,” Zehnder says. ìBut it’s also an experiential learning environment. It’s a place where we can demonstrate farming systems and strategies that are economically, ecologically and socially sustainable.”
Sustainable organic farming in action
Shawn Jadrnicek, a former farmer and South Carolina extension agent, manages the SOF’s day-to-day operations, including soliciting and managing volunteer and paid student labor, giving tours to curious farmers, students and extension agents, and designing and implementing many of the sustainable agriculture systems currently being used. The SOF is a sort of canvas for Jadrnicek’s farming imagination.
“That small market garden expanded and evolved over the years,” Zehnder says. “But Shawn’s work has really taken the farm to the next level.”
There are five greenhouses on the farm and each is oriented to take maximum advantage of passive heating and cooling techniques. A series of 55-gallon drums on the south side of one greenhouse collects solar heat during the day and emits that heat into the greenhouse at night.
In winter each solar-heated barrel produces over 9,000 BTUs of heat per day, which means that the heat generated from all the barrels is equivalent to burning one gallon of propane.
“The double-poly greenhouses with the 55-gallon drums give up to 13 degrees of frost protection without spending a penny on electricity or propane,” Jadrnicek said.
To augment the passive heating system, the greenhouses utilize a hydronic closed-loop active heating system that pumps warm water through pipes and a grid of tubing. Plant flats are placed directly on the tubing grid and kept warm by heat transfer. In this way, heat is placed exactly where it’s needed at the soil underneath the plants rather than wasting energy by heating the entire cavernous greenhouse space.
The greenhouses themselves are constructed of two layers of greenhouse plastic to reduce condensation and create insulation, and they are oriented to take advantage of the prevailing breezes. As the breezes move across the land, they are cooled by the ponds before entering the greenhouses. On extremely hot days, a recirculating fountain in an adjacent pond creates evaporative cooling. A series of solar-powered vents with expanding and contracting wax-filled switches allows hot air to escape and cool air to fill in behind it.
A rainwater collecting system captures water and feeds a cistern and a series of ponds used for irrigation and aquaculture. The ponds are strategically placed to control temperature and create microclimates. Plants and vegetation around the ponds capture and channel wind to the greenhouses. The ponds are also designed to create microclimates that provide a diversity of habitat for a variety of plants.
Some of the greenhouses partially encapsulate the ponds. Heat captured by the pond water is released into the greenhouses. Tilapia fingerlings are overwintered in one green-house pond and then transferred to outdoor ponds when the weather warms. The water in which the tilapia are raised, rich in organic matter, is used as fertilizer.
Laura Lengnick, director of the sustainable agriculture program at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, N.C., and lead author on the recently released USDA report, Climate Change and Agriculture: Effects and Adaptation, says that the SOF’s microclimate and keyline management practices offer examples of ways to create resilience to climate change.
“Shawn is doing some really groundbreaking work in managing microclimates and the large-scale movement of air and water across the landscape,” says Lengnick. “These features are unique among college farms.”
The SOF is also experimenting with a prototype soldier fly digester. The digester is used to recycle food and plant waste from campus dining halls and the farm. The soldier fly larvae consume the waste. The larvae are then processed in the Clemson Biosystems Engineering laboratory, where they are dehydrated and pressed for oil to make biodiesel. The remaining soldier fly meal can be used to feed chickens or fish. The digester is connected to a greenhouse. CO2 and heat from the digester are captured inside the greenhouse, while the greenhouse warms the digester and extends the life of the soldier flies and their larvae.“We estimate that the school could produce over 4,000 gallons of oil and $40,000 in high protein meal if we used all the food waste on campus in soldier fly digesters,” Jadrnicek says.
An enormous compost pile is cozied up against one of the greenhouses so its heat can help warm plants in winter. Water pipes run through the compost pile transferring heat into the hydronic system and reducing energy use.
The SOF maintains soil health by cover cropping rather than using fertilizers from offsite sources.
“Every part of the farm is cover cropped at some point during the year,” Zehnder says. “Cover cropping provides soil organic matter and nutrients and keeps fertilizer costs to an absolute minimum. Cover crops also suppress weeds and insects.”
Even the crop rows are planted with sustainability and efficiency in mind. They are planted on the high points of the fields so they can stay dry on the low-lying piece of land. The beds slope off the rows at a half-percent grade or less, allowing the fields to drain gradually without water loss or soil erosion.
Teaching and outreach at the SOF
The work that’s being done at the SOF isn’t theoretical. Like a stone dropped in a still pond, Jadrnicek and Zehnder hope the sustainable farming practices on display ripple outward.“The ultimate goal of the Student Organic Farm is to try techniques that will help farmers increase profitability and sustainability, and decrease farm debt. We also want to ignite the imaginations of the next generation of farmers,” Zehnder says.
Extension agents from across South Carolina visit the SOF to receive training in sustainable and organic farming practices. The agents then impart what they learn to producers interested in implementing sustainable farming practices and diversifying into emerging markets, including organic production.
“Producers are becoming more interested in organic and sustainable farming practices,” says Danny Howard, Greenville County extension agent. “The hands-on demonstrations we can provide through the Student Organic Farm are the best teacher of all. And current organic producers who are having challenges with weed, disease and insect control can learn how to solve these problems through the SOF’s outreach.”
During the 2012 Carolina Farm Stewardship Conference in Greenville, which was attended by more than 800 participants, the SOF conducted educational tours for agricultural stakeholders from across the Southeast.
Lee Meyer, extension professor in the University of Kentucky’s Department of Agricultural Economics, praises the SOF for showing farmers that sustainable farming systems are profitable and practical.
“When I talk about sustainable or organic farming alternatives, farmers often say to me, ‘That’s a great idea in theory, but you can’t do that it in the real world!’ Well, yes you can, and you can see it in action at Clemson’s Student Organic Farm,” Meyer says. “Geoff and Shawn listen to farmers’ problems and try to both find solutions and demonstrate their effectiveness.”
Students and faculty from a wide array of disciplines use the SOF for teaching and research. Horticulture professor Ellen Vincent takes her students on tours of the SOF.
“The Student Organic Farm is a great place for students to see cutting-edge sustainability practices in action,” Vincent says. “Geoff and Shawn have created a powerful environment for students to learn and grow.”
The SOF has also been the focus of Creative Inquiry projects in aquaponics, vegetable transplant, greenhouse design and architecture. One three-year Creative Inquiry project headed by associate professor of architecture Dan Harding led to the design and construction of several new structures at the SOF and the rebranding of The Bottoms as “Calhoun Fields.”
“When we were trying to understand the DNA of The Bottoms area, we decided that our agriculture programs are one of our strongest traditions,” said William Craig, a senior architecture major who worked on the project. “Agriculture is the reason we’re here in the first place. We wouldn’t have a Clemson University if Thomas Green Clemson hadn’t looked at those fields and imagined how they could be used to educate for the future. They are special, fertile fields. They are where the roots of this university lie.”
Organic produce for sale here!
The Student Organic Farm distributes organic produce and partially funds its research and outreach initiatives through its Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. CSA shareholders pay an upfront seasonal membership fee that covers production costs in exchange for a weekly share of local in-season organic food.
For 2013, the SOF will offer two 14-week shares, the Summer Share (April 30 – Aug. 1), and the Fall Share (Aug. 27 – Nov. 28). Some of the produce that shareholders can expect to receive:
Arugula, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, cilantro, collards, green onions, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, mustard greens, pac choi, radishes, spinach, Swiss chard, turnips
Basil, cucumbers, eggplant, garlic, green onions, herbs, okra, peppers, potatoes, snap beans, zucchini, yellow squash, sweet corn, Swiss chard, tomatoes, watermelons, cantaloupe
Arugula, basil, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, collards, cauliflower, eggplant, garlic, green onions, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, mustard greens, okra, pac choi, peppers, radishes, spinach, storage onions, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, turnips, winter squash
Fruit shares are also available during the Summer Share period. Though the fruit is not certified organic, the blackberries are treated organically, while the peaches, harvested from a local farm in Seneca, are minimally sprayed.
Learn more about the CSA by visiting
www.clemson.edu/sustainableag/csaprogram.html or by calling 864-656-5057.