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BAE Connections

Fall 2013 |

BRDI Team Works Separately, But in Parallel For social, political, and economic reasons, biofuels are quickly moving from the fuel of “tomorrow” to the fuel of “today.” Researchers in the Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering Department at the University of Kentucky are working on a new system of biofuel production that involves on-farm processing of biomass. The idea is to keep the biomass on the farm where it is produced and convert it into a more (continued on page 3) “Why I want to be a biosystems engineer”

Students in Dr. Nokes’s BAE 102 Intro to Biosystems Engineering must create a video that explains why they chose the major. Students will take advantage of the expertise offered by COE’s eStudio to create high-quality videos. They will be challenged to think visually, starting with the creation of detailed storyboards that break down the video second by second, even mapping the transitions, as they tell their stories. Watch the finished videos at

COE’s eStudio offers expanded support for student multimedia projects

What is eStudio? It’s a free service provided by the College of Engineering to help students develop and improve their oral, written, and digital communication skills. eStudio provides trained tutors, oral presentation rehearsal space, and the latest equipment and software to assist engineering students with a wide variety of communication projects. For more information, visit

Welcome from BAE Connections Editorial Committee Greetings Alumni and Friends: After many years, and with the help of our Alpha Epsilon chapter, we decided to restart the bi-annual BAE newsletter, now called BAE Connections. The name reflects what we hope the newsletter will do — help alumni reconnect with the department and increase communication within the department. In this newsletter, we have highlighted a few of the exciting projects our faculty, staff, and students are working on; projects in the areas of energy production, grain storage, and environmental protection. In these pages, you will meet current students and catch up with former ones, learn interesting facts about the BAE family, and discover all of the states and countries we have studied and worked in during the last five years. We also hope alumni will find ways to become more involved with the department. If you are interested in helping with senior capstone projects or class tours, providing internships, speaking to our ASABE student branch, or just stopping by for lunch, please let us know. We would love to hear from you! Stay connected with us through Facebook and Twitter, where we post current news and upcoming events. And, if you have time on November 1, join us in the Good Barn at 11 am for the Alumni Roundtable and a hot bowl of soup at our Fall Semester Soup Cook-off at noon. Get your spoons ready — we look forward to seeing you!

Sincerely, Carmen Agouridis, Ph.D., P.E.

BAE engineers, spanning the globe and working closer to home Tahiti Democratic Republic of Con-

go Turkey Indonesia Vietnam Malaysia Singapore Nigeria Ghana China Brazil Argentina Sweden Canada France Spain Chile Italy Ireland Philippines Peru Ecuador The Cook Islands Columbia Panama Dominican Republic Japan Mexico Florida Nebraska Kansas Hawaii Pennsylvania Michigan Indiana Ohio North Carolina Tennessee Illinois Virginia Oklahoma Kentucky New York New Mexico Arizona Colorado Alabama

Letter from Brazil Olá estudantes, Thanks to the generosity of the BAE department, I’m currently undertaking a research project at the Universidade de Viçosa in sunny Brazil. The research has really exceeded all of my expectations. When I arrived I expected to be a minion. Instead, I was given my own project and a refreshing degree of responsibility. Without getting into the details, I’m evaluating the effectiveness of a novel substrate preparation technique on several commercially grown mushroom species. It’s been a great opportunity to learn about both sustainable agriculture and what it takes to lead and organize a project. When I’m not at the laboratory I’m usually practicing my Portuguese. In the U.S. that would mean sitting in a classroom or reading through a book. Here in Brazil, everything is practicing Portuguese. Hanging out with friends, going to parties, visiting other cities; it’s all practicing Portuguese. When I arrived I expected that learning the language would be the worst part of the experience, but instead it has become one of my favorite parts. BAE’s opportunity to study abroad in Brazil is a great way to further your education and see more of the world.

Tchua, Tyler B. Denham

In this issue... Cover, Page 3 Page 2 Page 4 Page 5

BRDI Team Works Separately, But in Parallel by Alicia Modenbach, Ph.D.

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energy-dense liquid product on site to reduce transportation costs. This also will supply an additional revenue stream for the farmers. “This project is important because it uses existing storage capabilities on farm for a new purpose. By designing storage facilities as reactors, the biomass product leaving the farm is increased in value and more economical to transport. This is a win for everyone,” Barbara L. Knutson, Ph.D., professor in UK’s Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering, said. The Biomass Research and Development Initiative (BRDI) is the largest that Dr. Sue Nokes, lead principal investigator and chair of UK’s BAE department, has ever been a part of, in terms of both scope and the number of people involved. This project integrates scientists, engineers, economists, and farmers from universities, national labs, industries and farms – 21 principal investigators (PIs), to be exact, with each PI leading his or her own team. At UK alone, 10 graduate students, two post-doctoral students, and several technical staff dedicate their time to this effort. The core group of PIs fill the BAE 228 conference room every month for one hour, 15 minutes of which is used by research assistants to report findings. Outside groups contact the core PIs on an as-needed basis and submit an annual progress report. “It’s a challenge,” Nokes acknowledged, “to keep everyone informed of what the individual teams know.” As they assimilate their constant flows of new information, the teams work in parallel, trying to scale the process up from the lab scale to the pilot scale. Each research group works separately in an analogous path. “To be a part of that synergy, to get ideas from others is energizing…it’s enjoyable to work with people who are so good at what they do,” Nokes said. The University of Kentucky is collaborating with North Carolina State University, University of Wisconsin Madison, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, USDA Forage Animal Production Unit, and CNH America. The BRDI project also relies on a number of cooperators who have been very important to the successful implementation of the project. These include Miles Farms in Owensboro, Ky., Walnut Grove Farm in Logan County, Ky., Robertson Farms in Calhoun, Ky., and H&R Agri-Power, a farm equipment dealership with 12 locations. The project was funded by the USDA Biomass Research and Development Initiative in 2011 and is a four-year, $6.9 million project with an additional $2 million of support from CNH America. For more information on the project, visit

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BRDI Team Works Separately, But in Parallel Welcome, Letter from Brazil

Measuring the Nation’s Grain Crop

Turning Horse Muck into Biochar, New Faculty Student Spotlight Alumni Spotlight Staff Focus

Good News, Good Joke, Job Opening, Faculty Spotlight, Q&A with BAE’s Chair

Upcoming, Awards & Recognitions, Graduations, New Hires, Departures

BAE Connections is published twice a year by the University of Kentucky Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering Department, an Equal Opportunity Organization. The newsletter is produced by BAE in partnership with Alpha Epsilon. ©2013. Thank you to BAE staff, CAFE staff, and individuals for granting permission to use photographs. Please submit story ideas, questions, or comments to or BAE Connections Editorial Committee

Director: Sue Nokes, Ph.D., P.E. Advisor: Carmen Agouridis, Ph.D., P.E. Editor, Designer: Karin Pekarchik Alumni Advisor: Elizabeth Bullock, P.E. Writers: Carmen Agouridis, Ph.D., P.E., Tyler B. Denham, Alicia Modenbach, Ph.D., Michael Montross, Ph.D., P.E., Karin Pekarchik, Nick Rhea, Alex Wade

Measuring the Nation’s Grain Crop Michael Montross, Ph.D., P.E. Grain is the most valuable commodity that farmers can produce, but it is difficult to accurately measure grain volume. This is a critical industry issue because high-quality grain at appropriate moisture levels with minimal degradation can yield higher monetary returns. Therefore, farmers need to be able to accurately assess their crops pre- and post-harvest. Maintaining a reliable inventory can be difficult, especially during drying and storage. In the past, farmers would climb to the top of a grain bin, look inside the manhole, and estimate the level of the grain. Depending on the diameter of the bin, a misjudgment of just a few feet could make a significant difference in the volume predicted. For example, one foot of a 30-foot bin holds 568 bushels, while a 60-foot bin holds 2,271 bushels. Another problem farmers face is that grain doesn’t distribute into a level pile. When the bin is emptied, grain will move toward the unloading augers, generating crevices on the surface. New technology is being developed to measure points along the grain’s surface. Computer software can then translate these points into a surface map, then the volume is calculated if the appropriate diameter, height, and other spatial dimensions are provided. This prototype is in the development stage and being tested on a variety of grain bins by me and my colleagues.

“My early work was adopted as an ASABE industry standard, used to predict the packing of onfarm, commercial grain storage bins. We hope the new research will improve upon that system.” — Sam McNeill Sam McNeill, Ph.D., P.E. “My early work was adopted as an ASABE industry standard, used to predict the packing of on-farm, commercial grain storage bins. We hope the new research will improve upon that system,” Dr. McNeill said. “Years ago I used a bench-top scale. It may seem hard to believe, but a one-third bushel scales to a 100,000 bushel bin. Currently we are measuring several different grains: hard red winter wheat, soft red winter wheat, corn, soybean, barley, grain sorghum, and oats. Basically, we “sweep” the surface of the grain bin with a laser mounted on a level, stationary rig that’s mounted on top of the bin. CAD recreates the shape and volume; we reconcile the calculated volume and weight of the grain with packing.”

Mike Montross, Ph.D., P.E. Encountering all kinds of weather, Dr. Montross and his research team have spent the past several months traveling to different states and counties within Kentucky to measure grain levels in bins. “More people are building big bins, but if the older, smaller ones are safe and the guys are willing to work with us, we go to those too,” Dr. Montross explained. His team usually works in pairs, climbing ladders that can take them 130 to 140 feet up in the air while carrying backpacks filled with equipment. “The view is good but you don’t do this if you’re afraid of heights,” Nicole Koeninger, Dr. Montross’s graduate research assistant, said.

Turning Horse Muck Into Biochar Carmen Agouridis, Ph.D., P.E. Kentucky is known throughout the world for its horses. The state is home to more than 200,000 horses, from racing Thoroughbreds to pleasure horses. Caring for these animals means more than ensuring they have quality feed and plenty of exercise; it also means managing the muck, or the manure, urine and bedding, they generate. A 1,000-lb. horse will produce over 50 lbs. of waste and up to 20 lbs. of bedding per day, which means that Kentucky horse farms produce lots and lots of muck each day. Handling all of this muck is problematic, especially when considering that vast number of waterbodies (streams, rivers, lakes and wetlands) in the state. As these waters are used as drinking water sources, tourist destinations, and mediums for transportation among other things, it is important that they are protected. When it comes to muck, most horse owners either land apply it, compost it, or pay someone to haul it off the farm – all costly options with potential negative environmental impacts if not properly managed. In partnership with the USDA-ARS, I am exploring the idea of converting horse muck into biochar, which is a charcoal-like substance made from the burning of plant or animal-based biomass under low to no oxygen conditions. Biochar is used as either a fuel or a soil amendment. While research has shown many biochars have agronomic and environmental benefits, no studies have examined the characteristics or potential benefits of a horse muck-based biochar. This research is looking at the possibility of turning a waste product into a useful one.

New Faculty: Mike Sama, Ph.D., P.E. With his applied electronics and instrumentation background, Dr. Sama’s research focuses on measurement and control projects. His doctoral work, conducted with Dr. Stombaugh, focused on dynamic global positioning systems (GPS) accuracy. Currently, he is working on a tillage project for managing waste in a compost bedded pack barn. Sama and graduate student John Evans are building custom probes that measure the percent oxygen and temperature at different depths within the compost bed before and after tilling. This will enable researchers to better understand how different tillage methods influence the metabolic rate of the microbes in the compost. Another project is variable-rate control of agricultural equipment using a controller area network. Assistant Professor Sama teaches BAE 658: Instrumentation for Engineering Research and also will offer a new machinery course. Read more about Dr. Sama at www.bae.uky. edu/NewsEvents/2013August.shtm.

New Faculty: Joe Dvorak, Ph.D. Dr. Dvorak’s primary research areas are machinery controls and sensors. He describes his work: “Better field networks and control frameworks would enable a single operator to control multiple machines. This would allow the use of multiple, smaller, more compact field machines, which would reduce soil compaction, provide redundancy in the case of failure, and provide a level of field size neutrality in comparison with the large one-machine-per-operator equipment utilized today.” Assistant Professor Dvorak teaches BAE 305: DC Circuits and Microelectronics. Dr. Dvorak also serves as the faculty advisor for the BAE Student Branch. He will begin teaching BAE 515: Fluid Power Systems during the spring semester.

Student Spotlight By Alpha Epsilon students Nicholas Rhea and Alex Wade

Abby E Ph.D. Student

Xinyi E is better known throughout the department as “Abby E.” Abby recently left Lexington, right before giving birth to new daughter Scarlet, to be with her husband and daughter Olive in Manhattan, Kansas. She was a member of Dr. Crofcheck’s algae project while she completed her doctoral work, which involved life cycle assessment of an algae mitigation system. This included capture of CO2 from coal-fired power plants and also biomass reutilization through anaerobic digestion to produce syngas. While at UK, she gained more experience with agricultural engineering and, specifically, biofuels, a departure from her previous work in food science. She cautions future graduate students not to neglect research and academic writing. Abby looks forward to an academic career, ideally in the biofuel field, and is currently seeking employment. “Dr. Crofcheck was a great mentor and inspired me to pursue an academic career and become a responsible scientist,” Abby said.

Mary Deicher Weatherford M.S. Student

While an undergraduate and University Scholar (B.S. 2012), Mary Deicher Weatherford took BAE 532 Introduction to Stream Restoration. “The class really caught my interest and opened my eyes to the potential careers in water related fields,” Weatherford said. Now she’s starting the second year of her master’s program, working with Dr. Agouridis by evaluating the long-term hydrologic performance of reforestation methods for mined lands. In addition to scholarly work, Mary speaks Mandarin Chinese and is an accomplished harpist, playing with the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra for the past five years. “This year I got to combine those two things. UKSO toured China in May and performed in five cities including Beijing and Shanghai.” When asked what advice she would give current students, Mary recommended “getting to know your fellow students and faculty” and “investing time in interests outside of your major.”

Hana Hafer Undergraduate Student

Sophomore Hana Hafer is focusing on pre-biomedical engineering with the intent to go into genetic research and engineering. “I’m looking forward to taking a genetics lab because it applies directly to my goals in the future,” Hafer said. Biosystems engineering allows her to take biology electives and provides research avenues within the Biomedical Engineering department. A student of Mandarin, she is working on a minor in Chinese Language and Literature. “This past summer I traveled to Shanghai. I was abroad with nineteen other UK students, with whom I explored Beijing, Nanjing, and Suzhou. The program allowed me to become more independent, to widen my perspective. I hope to become an international business engineer and spend a lot of time in China. I can’t wait to travel abroad again.”

Alumni Spotlight By Alpha Epsilon students Nicholas Rhea and Alex Wade

Santosh Pitla University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources Advanced Machinery Systems Engineer for Food, Fuel, Water Santosh Pitla, who received an M.S. and Ph.D. from BAE as well as an M.S. from Mechanical Engineering, was well-prepared for a research/teaching career after specializing in precision agriculture under Dr. Shearer and Dr. Wells. Some of the robots he used to research sensor-based guidance systems are still in BAE labs.

“BAE acted as a launchpad for my research and teaching career, exposing me to the opportunities that agricultural engineering has to offer,” Pitla said. He cites his association with Mike Sama, Rodrigo Zandonadi, and Joe Luck for improving his ability to work on a team. When asked what he misses about the department, Pitla replied, “The machine shop, BAE cookouts, and having the No. 1 basketball team.” He advises new students to “plan early and execute, whether it’s a homework assignment, term project, thesis, or dissertation.” His final words: “Go CATS! Bring home the national trophy this year!!”

Christina Lyvers University of Illinois, Ph.D. Student, BioEnvironmental

Engineering Christina Lyvers started working on her Ph.D. at the University of Illinois last January under Dr. Green, UK BAE alum, and Dr. Rodriguez. “This fall I’m working in the field helping with a project tracking cattle movement while they graze corn fields post-harvest. I’m also analyzing GPS data looking to see if there is a difference in individual cattle behavior,” Lyvers said. The national Alpha Epsilon president serves as secretary for the U of I chapter, and after seven years on UK’s Wildcat Pulling Team, she remains involved by serving on the ASABE Quarter Scale Tractor Competition’s organizing committee. “I think Quarter Scale prepared me for everything! It taught me teamwork, patience, leadership, budgeting, drafting, critical thinking, and so much more. Even though I’m not power and machinery, I’ve used the connections I made on the team.”

Sebastian Torrealba Director, SIGMA; Water Resources Manager, Minera

Panama A native of Chile, Sebastian Torrealba completed a M.S. (2004) and Ph.D. (2010) in Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering and a M.A. (2008) in Mathematics while working for Dr. Warner. Sebastian owns a consulting firm, SIGMA, which specializes in water quality management. Presently, he is working throughout North, Central, and South America at nickel, copper, and gold mines where his fluency in five languages (English, French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish) comes in handy. He is also working with Dr. Warner on an update to SEDCAD. When not traveling, Sebastian enjoys mountain and road biking, cooking, Scottish single malt whiskey, and playing with his daughter Nahla. One of the organizers of the inaugural “Crave Lexington” festival, Sebastian plans to open a restaurant and shop in Lexington with his wife Laurentia in the near future.

Staff Focus: Lee Rechtin, Senior Machinist Senior machinist Lee Rechtin brings an impressive thirty-two years of experience to BAE’s Agricultural Machinery Research Lab (AMRL) commonly referred to as “the Shop.” As the only certified machinist in the department, he trains everyone to use what he calls “the old stuff ”—hardworking, industrial machines, some of which date back to World War II. “Now almost everything is CNC, computerized machine tools, that the young guys know. But we’re not a production shop, so the old machines work better for our regular need to build prototypes, just one of something.” Rechtin clearly enjoys his work, explaining that the variety of projects keeps him engaged. In just the past day, he built a bracket to hold a camera mount on a UAV-style helicopter, brackets for Dr. Stombaugh’s sprayer nozzles, and a holder for a fiber optic cable for one of Dr. Payne’s projects. Rechtin describes Dr. Payne as a “constant customer,” often requesting projects with small tolerances. “My optical research requires precision-made parts having small tolerances and sometimes unique materials, for example, the UV LED holder that Lee made for me. Lee can make a small precision part in one day that would cost $2,000 if we had to use an outside shop. We’re very fortunate to have such a resource,” Dr. Payne noted. “I do all the small stuff. Small tolerances, where there’s only a small measure that’s critical—that’s what they get me to make,” Rechtin said. “And anything aluminum. I like welding aluminum. There are different ways of welding it, but it’s the hardest thing to weld—until you get the hang of it.” His favorite part of the job? “Without a doubt, working with kids. They’re motivated. A lot of them come from farms. They have great work ethics. They’re a great group of young engineers. They come in ready to learn.” The AMRL staff have different skills, and those differences allow them to work as a team, sharing projects across levels of expertise. It also helps that some of them have worked together for decades, developing steady friendships that allow them to meet their demanding production schedule good naturedly and with a lot of laughs.

His favorite part of the job?“Without a doubt, working with kids. They’re motivated. A lot of them come from farms. They have great work ethics. They’re a great group of young engineers. They come in ready to learn.” — Lee Rechtin

Good News BAE’s graduate degree ranked 12th by U.S. Job Opening News and World Report Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering Faculty In its latest ranking of top engineering schools, U.S. News and World Report ranked BAE’s graduate program 12th in the nation, tied with Penn State. The department gained ground against traditional ag engineering powerhouses such as Illinois, Texas A&M, and Purdue, and with a score of 3.5, ranked slightly above Ohio State, which took the 14th spot. This ranking, published in 2013 for the 2014 year, moves BAE into Big 10 company and is a notable accomplishment for a relatively small department.

Assistant Professor, Req No. SM548942 The position is a 12-month tenure track Instruction (30%) and Research (70%) position with emphasis on food engineering. To read the full job posting, visit http://www.uky. edu/HR/working/.

Good Joke Because Dr. Crofcheck features a joke in the un- Faculty Spotlight dergrad newsletter, we asked her to choose a favorite. Czarena Crofcheck, An engineer was crossing a road one day when a frog called out to him and said, “If you kiss me, I’ll turn into a beautiful princess.” He bent over, picked up the frog and put it in his pocket. The frog spoke up again and said, “If you kiss me and turn me back into a beautiful princess, I will stay with you for one week.” The engineer took the frog out of his pocket, smiled at it and returned it to the pocket. The frog then cried out, “If you kiss me and turn me back into a princess, I’ll stay with you and do ANYTHING you want.” Again the engineer took the frog out, smiled at it and put it back into his pocket. Finally, the frog asked, “What is the matter? I’ve told you I’m a beautiful princess, that I’ll stay with you for a week and do anything you want. Why won’t you kiss me?” The engineer said, “Look I’m an engineer. I don’t have time for a girlfriend, but a talking frog, now that’s cool.” Source:

Ph.D., P.E., focuses her research on the bioprocessing of biomass into chemicals and fuel. With this research, Dr. Crofcheck strives to enhance industrial sustainability.

One of her projects utilizes catalytic mediation liquefaction (CML) to convert biomass into usable chemicals and materials, which will be vitally important for future manufacturing applications. She also serves as an associate professor and teaches four undergraduate and graduate courses. Dr. Crofcheck is an undergraduate advisor and leads the senior design course to prepare students for their their future occupations.

Did you know? Sam McNeill sang in the Vatican with his choir. Bobby Carey has chickens. Kylie Schmidt built a home rock-climbing wall. Mike Sama’s “Homemade Dust Collector” has 50,000 views on YouTube. Carmen Agouridis runs 30 miles a week. Tim Smith just bought a new Harley. Will Adams plays the piano.

Q&A with BAE’s Chair Department chair since May

Q. What is your biggest challenge?

Q. What surprises have you had in switching from research and teaching to administration?

self. That’s why I have two dogs. I have to go home and walk them.

A. The biggest surprise is how supportive everyone has been. The entire department shares the load. I don’t have to do it all myself.

Q. What is the department’s biggest challenge?

Q. How has being chair changed your perspective on the department?

A. Negotiating two colleges, through an imminent budget model change. It’s hard to be in two colleges rather than one completely.

2011, Dr. Nokes stays busy with administration, teaching, A. Taking time for myand research. She took time to answer a few questions.

A. My relationships have changed. I didn’t know all of the department chairs when I started. Now, instead of asking other researchers for advice, I ask other chairs. My focus is on the college, instead of just on my own research. I’m much more aware of what everyone is doing and how it fits into the college, and it’s made me very appreciative of the team we’ve assembled.

Q. What is your greatest reward? A. Watching people — students, faculty, staff — grow professionally. When other people are successful, that’s very rewarding to me, especially if I’ve had a hand in supporting them.

Upcoming November

Fall Advisory Board Meeting, Fall Newsletter


Winter Break


Graduate Student Recruitment Weekend


National Farm Machinery Show, E-Day


Midwest Rally, Southeast Rally


Lawn Mower Tune Up, Spring Newsletter




ASABE Quarter Scale Tractor Competition


ASABE Annual Meeting


Kentucky State Fair


Ag Round-Up


Midterm Grades Due

For more events and meetings listed on the department’s monthly calendar, visit


Abby E, Ph.D. Alicia Modenbach, Ph.D. Michael Sama, Ph.D. Rodrigo S. Zandonadi, Ph.D


Tabitha Graham, M.S. Kathryn Gray, M.S. Jeffrey Kellow, M.S. Christina Lyvers, M.S. Travis Maupin, M.S. Sam Mullins, M.S. Drew Roberts, M.S. Donald Stamper, M.S.. Jonathan Villines, M.S.


Backward Glance at Brazil

Faculty/Staff Awards and Recognitions Carmen Agouridis, Ph.D., P.E. Brett Childers Don Colliver, Ph.D., P.E. Czar Crofcheck, Ph.D., P.E. George Day, Ph.D., P.E Michael Hagan Doug Overhults, Ph.D., P.E. Joe Taraba, Ph.D. Wildcat Pulling Team

Jeff Clark, B.S. John Evans, B.S. Andrew Long, B.S Zeb Vance, B.S.


Emily Broyles Jennifer Frederick Stephanie Mehlhope

New Hires Kylie Schmidt Yongbo Wan

BAE Connections | Fall 2013  

A bi-annual newsletter from the University of Kentucky's Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering Department