Scorching Samples: Engineering Field Trip to the VT Stream Lab

By: LeeAnn Perritt, Mackenzie Beavers, Rachana Subbanna, and Ishita Garg

The Biological Systems Engineering Department at Virginia Tech  is one of the most well respected in the country. BSE is defined as combining all types of science in order to solve problems in biological systems. One of their current projects is the stREAM Lab which brings scientist and educators together to develop a research facility that will give undergraduate and graduate students world class opportunities to study water quality and watersheds.

As students began their next activity in BSE, they approached a large cube-like frame and 4 different boxes of sediments underneath. Quizzical, they watched as a control knob Water.1was turned and water began to spray from the suspended nozzle. The students were told that this was a rainfall simulator, and the boxes contained different materials that were possible runoff culprits. The purpose of the simulator, explained by PhD student Qualla Ketchum, was to observe the runoff amounts from 4 different mediums: straw, dyed mulch, soil, and grass. First, the students were asked to predict the amount of runoff that each medium would produce. After the simulation ran for about 25 to 30 minutes, it was observed that runoff was produced from the mud container first in a murky brown color. The next container that produced runoff was the mulch, which at first yielded brown water but at subsequent attempts became clearer. The chemical residue left from the dyed mulch proved to be more harmful at first due to h 0c   gher pollutant concentration, but as time went by and more samples were collected, the water samples contained less pigmentation. Straw and grass were more absorbent,and therefore were the best mediums for runoff prevention.

Following this display, Engineering Major students ventured to the stREAM lab, where Water.2many PhD students conduct their research. Students waded into the water to witness the measurements of downstream velocity with university technology and aided with the turbidity test. In this test, students observed initial stream turbidity, then after kicking up rocks and stirring sediment, noted the diminished water quality in relation to high turbidity levels. Getting into the stream was the highlight of the day, due to the intense heat, around 95 degrees.. woaH.    

Ag Econ, Let’s Talk A-Boat It!

By: Katherine French, Carmen Mew, Jessica Yu, Claire Seibel, Candace Miu

This week, Governor’s School students split into their majors for two classes a day. Each afternoon, Agricultural Economics students participated in a business management activity led by Professor Curt Stevenson. Students were divided into groups of three to four, with each group representing one “fishing company.” Companies consisted of a skipper, an accountant, and negotiator(s). These roles had different responsibilities including buying and selling boats, determining where to fish, and keeping some boats docked.

In the fishing simulation, negotiations and strategies were utilized to ensure the highest amount of profit. Auctions and trades for ships among different companies were held, requiring calculated and risky choices. All of these decisions were accompanied by set expenses that may have led the company into debt, requiring them to use interest-carrying loans. Each round of decisions was equivalent to one year of fishing, and at the end of each year, companies’ decisions were inputted into a computer program that determined how many fish each company caught based on weather conditions. Afterwards, Professor Stevenson calculated assets and bank balances, ranking each company accordingly. The ultimate goal of the game was to posses the highest amount of assets at the end of the “ten year” period. However, before reaching that 10 year mark, the companies experienced multiple abrupt challenges.

                    Photographs taken by Katherine French

As they received the results from the eighth year, many students were surprised to discover that the companies had negative assets and bank balances! Each company incurred substantial losses for seemingly no apparent reason. Then, Professor Stevenson explained what had happened: they had depleted all of the area’s fish in just seven years. He introduced the term “overcapitalization,” which means the number of ships in the fishing fleet surpassed the sustainable capacity. Another factor contributing to the depletion was that the fish were public resources (no regulations allocated a specific amount to any one company), so there were no incentives to participate in conservation, leading to a complete exhaustion of the water.

In addition to having fun as theoretical fishing company leaders, Ag Econ students were able to learn about the difficulty that is sustainable resource management, a problem that economists frequently address today. One might even say, they learned to not be so shellfish!

To explore the simulation, follow this link!

WOOD You Believe What We Learned Today???????????????

By: Kelly Crocker, Grace Ko, Chris Underwood, and Erin Hensien

This Tuesday the engineering majors got the chance to visit the Thomas M. Brooks Forest Product Center. They got to take a closer look into the world of engineering and think about possible career paths by talking with an expert in the field about his research. This research centered around the process of the gasification of biomass and how it can affect the environment.


The process of the gasification of biomass has four steps. The wood chips are dried, then heated in an environment lacking oxygen so that they don’t burn but are reduced to charcoal and tar. This charcoal and tar is then burned in a combustion chamber and the gases produced are collected. This “Syngas” is the desired product because it can be used to power motors, generators, and vehicles.

The gasification of biomass can have many positive environmental effects. This process sustains itself and can support other products. This energy source reduces air pollution by reducing the severity of the presence of greenhouse gases and closing the cycle of carbon dioxide. The cycle of carbon dioxide is closed since the process does not produce carbon dioxide, and only releases the carbon dioxide taken in by the tree during photosynthesis. The implementation of the gasification of biomass has significant potential success in rural areas. Since most communities in rural areas already use the burning of wood to produce energy, this process can collect the natural byproduct and repurpose it in a useful way.

Overall, we had a fun and engaging experience learning about the gasification process. Most of us had never heard about this process before so we gained new knowledge about the different areas of biosystems engineering. This visit to the Forest Product Center helped to continue our look into the field of agricultural engineering.


Hungry for Hamburgers?

By: Natalee Baker, Joy Kim, Karmine Malhi, & Maeve McCaffery

A summer barbecue smell filled the room as we grilled our hamburgers on an early Tuesday morning.  In the midst of the smoky air, the students gathered around Dr. Joe Eifert who, through detailed slides and offhand jokes, explained the importance of food preparation and safety.

On July 11, 2017, the GSA food science major congregated in the food science and technology laboratory to conduct a lab involving the measurement of temperatures of meat in different states. Half of the class used electrical grills while the other half gathered outside to cook with traditional charcoal grills.  Each group received a data sheet and an IMG_2328[1]assortment of temperature-measuring tools including infrared, probe, and color-changing thermometers.  Once the grills were up and running, Dr. Eifert passed around a variety of burger to the class to analyze how differing meats and states affected cooking times. The meats provided were thawed beef, frozen beef, thawed turkey, and frozen turkey.

Students used the smaller electrical George Foreman grill which only allowed for one burger to cook at a time.  As Dr. Eifert said, “it might be silly IMG_5847for four people to stare at one burger for awhile so make the most of it!”  The conventional charcoal grills, even smaller in size, took a bit longer to cook to the same temperature but worked to the same functions.

Before coming into this program, most students had absolutely no idea that the recommended burger cooking temperature was 160 degrees Fahrenheit.  That temperature is recommended to kill the foodborne-illness causing bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella that survive until that point.  Cooking meats at 160 degrees Fahrenheit means that the bacteria has been exterminated and you are left with a beautiful, healthy, brown meat.

Our data sheets revealed the expected disparities in the differing types and states of meat. The average amount of time it took to cook a frozen patty was about two minutes more than a thawed one. The contrasting compositions of red and lean meats also led to their differing cooking times.

The day earlier, a confusing Monday of class changes, Dr. Eifert gave a relaxed but shocking lesson about disease in poorly cooked meat. In 1993, a strain of bacteria that is usually harmless, E. coli O157:H7, was found in the Jack in the Box burger meat. This particular strain of E. coli is deadly to humans, causing the death of four children and around 140 people were hospitalized. This meat was contaminated before reaching the restaurant, but the failure of Jack in the Box to cook their meat to 160 degrees was ultimately what caused the casualties. If the meat had been cooked to the recommended temperature, the harmful bacteria would have been killed.

In light of these horrifying food scandals, the most impactful take away our major had was to be precise in cooking our foods– if the thermometer isn’t hot, your cooking will be for naught!

For more incite on the Jack in the Box meat scandal, click the link to watch this video!

GSA Tour: Four Farms, One Afternoon

By Britney Armstrong, Beth Smith, Benjamin Guo, Joshua Gilliard

Being a school of agriculture, you’d think that we would be spending all of our time on farms. However, there are many things we must learn in a classroom before we get to see the animals at Virginia Tech’s farms. However, we made up for that classroom time by visiting four farms with four different animals in one afternoon.


The first steer we met at the cattle farm was a 1 ton Hereford with a cannula protruding from his neck. The cannula allows the students and professors to take grass samples. We then moved on to the cattle that were being trained to stand in a stall for the state show. The last group to visit the cows were able to help turn the cannulated steer out to the pasture! Getting to work with the cows was an exhilarating experience and it is all thanks to our wonderful tour guide!


Visiting a pig farm was a great experience, and gave our noses a new farm fragrance to breath in. Past the smell, our trip offered an interesting perspective of both hogs and piglets. Pigs are dangerous to each other due to their non picky appetites. In fact, our guide told us that the reason the pigs did not have spiral tails is because other pigs would eat off their tails. Aside from their cannibalistic habits, pigs are really fun, filthy animals.


Today we had the opportunity to visit a farm that bred horses like the black stallion “King” in the image. The horses were extremely friendly to everyone on the tour and many people got to experience interacting with a horse for the first time. The tour guide informed us about the many activities taking place at the farm including how they used artificial insemination to breed the horses which relates to the animal science lectures we had during class. Overall, meeting the horses at the farm was a neat experience and many appreciated petting and feeding these remarkable animals.


We also had the chance to stop by a sheep farm during our trip. We met the barn cat, tried to pet some sheep, and learned how to herd sheep between two pens (which was more difficult than anticipated). Some students even got a chance to flip sheep (as shown in this video), which is usually done to hold sheep still during shearing or medical examinations.


Economics is Everywhere

By: Tyler Palicia and Alex Ton

We woke up at 8 o’clock sharp, excited to face the day. We wondered, as we brushed our teeth, “What interesting information would we learn in our classes!” As we rushed along to breakfast, to enjoy delicious D2 omelets, we anticipated a riveting day of unique, informative lectures. Little did we know, our first class “economics is all around us,” would change our entire outlook of the economics that we see all around us every day. Our informative professor, Dr. Mike Ellerbrock, greeted us with a smile. He posed questions to us, like,”Why do most men vote against polygamy?” It made us wonder, “Yeah! Why do most men vote against polygamy!?” Mike allowed us time to discuss, and occasionally lead us to the answer. The answer to that question is that men vote against polygamy because they don’t want the richest and most attractive guys marrying all of the eligible women. As usual for the economic lectures so far, the lesson was well received by the masses. We personally enjoyed the lecture because it gave an insight into the life around us and why things that seem normal to us but in reality are very odd. It showed us the large part that economics plays in our lives and how the macroeconomic and mass production scale can make many things that are logically wrong but economically right. These questions inspired us to think a little more deeply about the world around us, in an economic context.


Citation: Taken by Alex Ton during the lecture

You are what you eat: Food safety from different perspectives

By: Edward Cho, Mitchell Turnage, Lawrence Wang, Nejib McGill

This past Thursday, July 7th, students had the opportunity to observe a panel, with members discussing the topic of food safety in America. They heard plenty of unique and educated perspectives regarding the topic and learned a great deal about how critical food safety really is. The importance of this issue is essential to understanding the necessity of passing an acceptable threshold of “cleanliness” for the public.

The four different individuals specialized in different areas of agriculture:

  1. All natural raw dairy
  2. USDA
  3. Food Safety
  4. Traditional dairy

Food Safety.1

Many students entered the panel discussion with little to no interest or prior knowledge on the significance of food safety and its relationship with the public health, molding an unexpected and interesting discussion. However, upon the conclusion of the panel, many students had completely changed opinions on food safety, largely a result of the myth-busting that took place concerning the misconception of food treatment and distribution.

Food Safety.2

A significant takeaway from this panel was the overarching theme: food is never safe. The speakers pointed out a distinctive difference between the safety and acceptance of certain foods distributed throughout the agricultural industry. Additionally, the myriad of backgrounds and occupations of the speakers presented multiple misconceptions that are commonly held ignorant by the public.  One of the heavily discussed debates during this panel was over the potential and known benefits of raw milk.  The organic farmer and conventional farmer had a respectful discussion over the explicit analysis of removing beneficial enzymes and essential nutrients such as Vitamin A. There is a need to understand the entire story before making an educated opinion consuming types of food.

Credits: both pictures were taken by students