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2014 was a year of celebrations for CALS. The college feted its 125th anniversary many times, in many ways and in many places throughout the year. We had a great time looking back at the past 12-plus decades, but now it’s time to celebrate the remarkable things that our faculty, staff and students achieved during the past 12 months. While we can’t revisit all of the great work done in 2014, we think the following are good examples. It’s safe to say that the next 125 years are off to a great start.

Poplars designed for deconstruction: A major boon to biofuels

An approach pioneered by CALS biochemistry professor John Ralph, plants leader in the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, is now being used to engineer poplar trees for digestibility, opening the door to a much more energy- and cost-efficient way of converting biomass into fuel.

Summer internship introduced landscape architecture student to Japanese gardens

Lily Mank at the Anderson Japanese Gardens.

This past summer CALS landscape architecture senior Lily Mank interned at the Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford, Illinois. The internship, which was offered for the first time this year, gave Mank the opportunity to rotate through many aspects of running the garden and to meet with Hoichi Kurisu, the garden’s chief designer since 1978.

UW-Madison scientists hope to discover drugs from bugs

Leaf-cutter ants, which harbor antibiotic-producing bacteria on their bodies, are a source for new bacteria-killing drugs.

Bacteriology professor Cameron Currie is the co-PI on a five-year, $16 million grant to find new sources of antibiotics to combat the rising number of deadly antibiotic-resistant infections. The funding, provided by the National Institutes of Health Centers of Excellence for Translational Research, will enable Currie and others to look for novel antibiotics in previously overlooked places such as insects, plants and marine life.

UW team selected to design coursework for new dairy training center in China

The University of Wisconsin-Madison was selected to develop the curriculum for a new $400 million dairy training center being established by the Nestle corporation in China’s northeast province of Heilongjiang. UW personnel will design and help deliver a series of courses covering key aspects of dairy farm management.

CALS served up the “main course” at Wisconsin Science Festival’s Science of Supper Clubs event

CALS food and agricultural scientists had a big and tasty presence at this fall’s Wisconsin Science Festival. As part of the college’s year-long celebration of its 125th anniversary, CALS faculty served up the “main course” at the festival’s Science of Supper Clubs event, which featured science fair-style presentations – and samples – of Wisconsin supper club fare.

Chefs, breeders paired up to produce tastier veggies 

CALS agronomy professor and chair Bill Tracy is one of several vegetable breeders working with chefs and farmers to develop better-tasting vegetables. Photo courtesy of AP/M.L. Johnson.

As part of a larger project to work with local farmers and chefs to develop tastier vegetables, horticulture assistant professor Julie Dawson held a series of field days this summer to give farmers, chefs and members of the public the opportunity to taste and give feedback on a wide variety of vegetables. AP reporter M.L. Johnson attended one of the field days and wrote a story about the project.

Greater use of social media gets science, scientists noticed


In September, a team including life sciences communication professors Dominique Brossard and Dietram Scheufele published a study in the Journalism & Mass Communications Quarterly showing that scientists who share their research – with reporters and via Twitter – tend to have a higher “h-index,” a measure of the quality of a researcher’s work and influence. In other words, when scientists share their work, it tends to boost their professional reputations.

Hunger and poverty in Wisconsin, county by county


Katherine Curtis, director of the Applied Population Laboratory and associate professor in the Department of Community and Environmental Sociology, helped author a new series of reports that describe county-by-county poverty and food security trends in Wisconsin.

CALS scientists helped launch Open Source Seed Initiative, a novel effort to keep new vegetable and grain varieties free for all

Jack Kloppenburg (left), professor in the Department of Community and Environmental Sociology, Irwin Goldman (center), chair of the Department of Horticulture, and Claire Luby (right), graduate student in the UW’s Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics program, fill envelopes with open source seeds. Photo by Bryce Richter.

This spring a group of faculty, staff, students, farmers and sustainable food systems advocates gathered on the front lawn of the Microbial Sciences Building to celebrate the release of 29 new varieties of vegetables and grains using a novel Open Source Seed Pledge designed to protect the plants from patents and other restrictions down the line. Local media turned out in droves, and the event also received some national coverage.

The sloth’s busy inner life

Researchers in the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology found that three toed sloths are a unique ecosystem unto themselves, creating a hospitable environment for moths and algae right in their fur – and for good reason. This discovery, described in a UW-Madison news release, was also featured in this New York Times article.

A groundbreaking gut check

David Combs with a dairy cow.

A team led by dairy science professor David Combs figured out that the amount of feed that cows gobble up and turn into milk is influenced by that feed’s rate of fiber digestion. They then developed a way to test for this factor, creating a tool that is helping dairy farmers grow and buy the types of feed that cows like to eat and that help boost milk production.

Big on social media: CALS’ #SweetScientists on The Amazing Race

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This summer CALS food science PhD students Amy DeJong and Maya Warren competed in the 25th season of The Amazing Race. The college’s social media community has been keenly interested in their adventures, sharing updates and words of encouragement as the show has unfolded this fall. The above tweet promoting the season premier, for instance, received more than 18 retweets and reached more than 15,000 people.

Video: A look back at CALS’ 125th anniversary

The UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences celebrated its “quasquicentennial” [kwos-kwi-sen-ten-ee-uh-l] in 2014. That’s 125 years of world-class research, education and outreach to the state of Wisconsin and the globe. This video highlights special moments from celebrations throughout the year.