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Posts tagged: Science

Getting Geeky at the 3rd Annual USA Science and Engineering Festival

Sonny Ramaswamy, director of NIFA, has fun with Madagascar hissing cockroaches.

Sonny Ramaswamy, director of NIFA, has fun with Madagascar hissing cockroaches.

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

When you think of agriculture do you think of science and engineering? You should! Farmers are some of our original scientists, tinkering with plant varieties and farming techniques to find ways to reliably grow food. At USDA, we still do that kind of research in a never-ending effort to find better ways to produce food, fuel, and fiber. We also do a lot of research you might not think of when you think about agriculture: from forensic genetic analysis to track down unwanted pests to figuring out how to turn spent grain from distilleries into biodegradable kitty litter.

On April 26-27, the 3rd Annual USA Science and Engineering Festival took over the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. Over 325,000 people came out to celebrate discovery and innovation through over 3,000 hands-on activities and 150 performances and lectures.  USDA pulled all of the stops to show our geeky side and hopefully convince a few young booth visitors to consider agriculture when they think about careers in science. Read more »

U.S. Forest Service Makes Learning about Invasive Species Easy for Kids

The Insects Invade magazine developed by the U.S. Forest Service in collaboration with Scholastic Inc. was distributed to 25,000 teachers nationwide this year.  (U.S. Forest Service)

The Insects Invade magazine developed by the U.S. Forest Service in collaboration with Scholastic Inc. was distributed to 25,000 teachers nationwide this year. (U.S. Forest Service)

Our forests are under attack. And the U.S. Forest Service is hoping that the Nation’s fourth and fifth graders can help fight back.

The Forest Service distributed Insects Invade, a teacher’s package to 25,000 teachers nationwide.  The teacher’s package includes 30 copies of a 12-page full color magazine called Insects Invade, a teacher’s page that has two lesson plans, as well as a comment card for feedback. The magazine was developed in conjunction with Scholastic Inc., a company that has delivered books, magazines and educational materials to schools and families for 90 years.

The Insects Invade educational product resulted as an idea to build awareness among fourth and fifth graders elementary school children about invasive insects. Read more »

Old Microscope Sparks New Idea for Kids’ Science Club

Drs. Rebecca Efroymson and Bill Hargrove held a recent science club meeting in Haw Creek Elementary School’s computer lab. (U.S. Forest Service/Stephanie Worley Firley)

Drs. Rebecca Efroymson and Bill Hargrove held a recent science club meeting in Haw Creek Elementary School’s computer lab. (U.S. Forest Service/Stephanie Worley Firley)

When he was a child, Forest Service scientist Bill Hargrove burnt off his eyebrows making rocket fuel, blew up a sealed jar of cultured yeast and started a bathroom fire while doing sterile transfers for a carrot tissue culture. Fortunately, he survived his early scientific experiments and is now inspiring a new generation of young students.

Hargrove, a research ecologist with the Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center, and his wife, Rebecca Efroymson, are pioneering an extramural science club for fourth and fifth graders at Haw Creek Elementary School in Asheville, N.C. Each monthly club meeting features real-life scientists who lead lively discussions and activities about diverse scientific topics.

During the first club meeting last year, students looked at living creatures found in drops of pond water through a light microscope—Hargrove’s own childhood microscope. Read more »

Stopping a Winged Purveyor of Disease and Death

The mosquito Aedes aegypti can spread several diseases as it travel from person to person. Only the females feed on blood. In this photo, the mosquito is just starting to feed on a person’s arm.

The mosquito Aedes aegypti can spread several diseases as it travel from person to person. Only the females feed on blood. In this photo, the mosquito is just starting to feed on a person’s arm.

During the month of April we will take a closer look at USDA’s Groundbreaking Research for a Revitalized Rural America, highlighting ways USDA researchers are improving the lives of Americans in ways you might never imagine.  For example, researching mosquitoes that spread diseases that threaten human health worldwide.

Today is World Health Day, and this year’s theme is vector-borne diseases—those diseases spread by organisms like insects, ticks and snails.  Significant vector-borne diseases in the Americas include dengue fever, malaria, leishmaniasis, lymphatic filariasis and schistosomiasis.

One of the most egregious offenders is the mosquito, and the scientists of USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) are taking aim at this winged attacker with weapons ranging from traditional remedies to computer modeling and satellite images. Read more »

Secretary’s Column: USDA Science You Can See

While most people have a mental image of research that involves scientists in lab coats, bubbling test tubes and beakers, and technical language that can seem complex, much of the groundbreaking research conducted by USDA scientists actually ends up on your plate, in your home, or on your back. Their discoveries in the lab truly translate into science you can see.

For example, many of us make a conscious effort to eat healthier and cut calories, but it can be tough when faced with a favorite snack, like French fries. USDA scientists have figured out a way to make French fries healthier. Before frying, scientists exposed potato strips to a few minutes of infrared heat. This forms a crispy outer shell on the outside of the fries, which helps to reduce their oil uptake and ultimately reduces calories per serving. If adopted commercially, this method is great news for both food processors and our waistlines. Read more »

#AgInnovates: Modern Solutions for a 21st Century Rural America

In the 151 years since the U.S. Department of Agriculture was founded, America’s oldest industry has evolved to meet the changing needs of our modern agricultural landscape. From growing overseas markets, building a 21st century rural infrastructure, and finding ways to address the challenges of climate change, USDA has worked beside farmers, businesses, and community leaders to streamline programs and spur innovative solutions for today’s challenges.

For USDA, that also means looking inward and changing the way we do business. We have done this by designing initiatives that collectively utilize the full scope of our mission, better focusing resources and staff across the Department to meet the needs of the communities we serve using modern tools, technology, and processes.

USDA’s recently expanded StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity initiative illustrates this trend with a broad commitment to rally available tools and technical assistance to combat persistent poverty in rural communities in 20 states.

Our Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative aims to support the rapidly expanding local and regional food market with new products and services, as well as tailored cross-agency web resources and data that illustrate opportunities and promote local and regional food systems.

And finally, through the Blueprint for Stronger Service, USDA responded to the uncertain fiscal environment by streamlining mission critical work and taking a close look at operations to find ways to cut costs and modernize processes to be better stewards of taxpayer dollars – with great results.

Over the next month we’ll share more about the ways that USDA has evolved to meet the needs of modern agriculture in America. We’ll use hashtag #AgInnovates on social media to share these stories, but we want to hear from you too. In the video above, Secretary Vilsack asked you to lend your voice to our collective story of how YOUR community has evolved to meet the needs of the 21st century. A new hospital? Technology enhanced planning, harvest, or conservation practices? A better transportation infrastructure? Education programs to meet the needs of today’s high tech ag sector?

Use #AgInnovates to let us know. We can’t wait to hear from you.