Research focus: proximal and remote plant disease sensing and applied grape pathology
Research summary: I study how proximal and remote sensing can be used to make earlier, faster, and more accurate grape disease detection and management decisions.
My lab, the Grape Sensing, Pathology, and Extension Lab at Cornell AgriTech (GrapeSPEC) studies the basic science of how light interacts with diseased plants and how we can take advantage of this to improve disease management in vineyards. Our overarching goal is to combine new sensing technologies, data science, and fundamental plant pathology to improve the three pillars of integrated grape disease management, which are understanding pathogen biology, host susceptibility, and fungicide efficacy.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I love traveling, reading fantasy and sci-fi novels and fostering kittens! My husband and I have two cats who we adore, and decided to take our cat obsession a step further by fostering. We fostered over 40 kittens when we lived in Madison, WI and are excited to get back into it as we settle into the FLX.
What are your current outreach/extension projects?
As extension faculty, my goal is to provide reliable early intervention decision support to New York grape growers by evaluating new chemistries, tools and methods for grape disease management. Some of our first extension activities surround evaluating commercially available sensors for disease detection in our extensive fungicide efficacy trials and developing integrated sensor management (ie: what makes a quality sensor?) extension materials to help growers sort through the deluge of marketing surrounding new ag tech products and services. GrapeSPEC recently received our first federal grant that will allow us to conduct a statewide fungicide resistance survey while developing new, technology-driven methodology for proactive resistance monitoring.
What are three adjectives people might use to describe you?
Animated, innovative, compassionate
What (specifically) brought you to Cornell CALS?
Well…it’s Cornell! Cornell University has a legacy of excellence in both plant pathology and more broadly in research, extension and outreach. The opportunity to be a part of that history was irresistible. And the people! Oh the people are just outstanding! It is such a joy to work with the remarkable faculty, students and staff scholars in the Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology section, as well as the dedicated and brilliant individuals that comprise the New York wine and grape industry.
What do you think is important for people to understand about your field?
Plant disease sensing is experiencing a renaissance right now! New technologies, such as hyperspectral imaging, have been recently proven capable of pre-symptomatic disease detection. While we know that these technologies are powerful, we don't yet know how best to harness them to solve problems we care about.
Disease is chaotic and destructive, and is currently the greatest barrier to production in the eastern industry. Reliable, scalable, and labor-less disease detection with proximal and remote sensing would dramatically improve the sustainability of grape production on all fronts: environmentally, financially and societally.
What was your most memorable/valuable research experience when you were a student?
When I was a senior in college planning to apply to graduate school, I asked someone I trusted in my research group if I should I apply to a competitive fellowship program. They told me I shouldn’t bother because I wouldn’t stand a chance. I was dejected and embarrassed, and unfortunately, I listened to them and didn’t apply. In hindsight, that advice was much more about them than it was about me. I decided I would never let an opportunity I wanted, no matter how much of a long shot it appears to be, pass me by without a good faith effort again.
As a PhD candidate in my final year of grad school, I reflected on this experience while reading the call for my dream job, to be an Assistant Professor of Grape Pathology at Cornell. I decided to throw my hat in the ring and apply. You can see from this article how that story ended!
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve discovered about the Finger Lakes region so far?
I’m a big fan of aromatic white wines, so Finger Lakes Riesling has been on my radar for a few years now. But before I accepted this job, I was not familiar with cold hardy varietal wines (such as Bruce Reisch’s Traminette, just outstanding) and French hybrid wines (Vignoles, my new favorite dessert wine!) produced in not only the Finger Lakes, but also the other New York State AVAs.
I’ve greatly enjoyed getting to taste the delightful wines made in Long Island, the Hudson Valley, and Lake Erie area, and most importantly, getting to know the dedicated individuals responsible for their production. Overall, I have been pleasantly surprised with how opening and welcoming the grape and wine community at Cornell more broadly in New York has been to a newcomer like myself!
If you had unlimited grant funding, what major problem in your field would you want to solve?
If funding were unlimited, I would invest further in our research into why powerful sensing systems are capable of disease detection and differentiation in the first place. What are the precise underlying plant processes we are actually detecting when we use sensors to find diseased plants?
If funding for my extension efforts were unlimited as well, I would subsidize the acquisition of digital viticulture and digital pathology tools for all NY grape growers to ensure that everyone regardless of operation scale has access to the latest and most effective tools for early management intervention.
And finally, if unbounded by the constraints of reality, and in the spirit of NASA’s forthcoming Moon and Mars missions, I would develop disease detection and management guidelines for space station, lunar and Martian viticulture. After all, what’s the point of being an interplanetary society if we don’t have wine?
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