RCA Researcher of the Month
The RCA Researcher of the Month recognizes and honors an individual who has expressed creativity, curiosity, and an honest and deliberate quest for excellence in their research activities. These individuals serve as leaders among their peers and they involve students directly in world-class research. The intellectual property their work generates creates new opportunities for NDSU and contributes to its reputation as a nationally-recognized research university.
November 2018: Marisol Berti, Ph.D.
NDSU forage and biomass crop production professor and researcher Marisol Berti is clear about why she’s at the university. “From the students to my partners in extension to my research activities, I just love my job!” This lifelong learner has found success as a forage and cover crops professor. “We are coming up with practical solutions to problems. That’s why our work has grown much in scope in just two years. People connect to what we’re doing because it makes sense and we’re making a difference in their agricultural practices.”
Along with the strong collaboration of other researchers, Berti is a practical scientist who has built an eloquent solution to the problem of protecting agriculture land from erosion. Her research team and other researchers (including extension specialists) have utilized more efficient planting strategies and figured out how to incorporate cover crops between the rows of regular crops. Employing a modified high clearance interseeder drill from Fargo’s Amity Technology, their research has successfully utilized the unplanted spaces by planting two rows of cover crops in-between crops as high as two feet.
“With the recent dry conditions this spring which have caused soil to blow away, our local farmers really appreciate the value of cover crops to protect against the problem of losing the topsoil,” she commented. “In addition, the recent low commodity prices have driven them to find new ways to reduce costs. Our work helps them accomplish both goals.”
By utilizing cover crops with agricultural value or those already targeted in crop rotation cycles, the process provides added value to the producer. The research team has targeted cereal rye for its winter hardiness and performance as cover crop in corn-soybean systems. Another hardy broadleaf, winter camelina, has also shown promise due to its unique ability among broadleaf cover crops to survive North Dakota winters. Berti points out that winter camelina flowers early in the spring, which makes it also beneficial to pollinators, and it has potential as a high quality oilseed crop. These plants, along with traditional alfalfa intercropped into corn, provide additional products for producers while ensuring there is no exposed ground in a field.
Born in Santiago, Chile, Berti grew up in a family who loved nature and the mountains. She fondly recalls gaining an appreciation for agriculture and the land from her Italian grandfather who grew much of his own food. After earning her BS in agronomy from the Catholic University of Chile, she decided that a large city wasn’t where she wanted to live. When she received a recommendation from one of her professors to intern with a seed company in Breckenridge, Minnesota, she gladly accepted and moved north. It was during this time that she met NDSU professor Albert Schneiter during a field day. Dr. Schneiter saw potential in Berti and recommended that she continue her education at NDSU where she earned her MS and later her Ph.D. in plant sciences. Berti is a lifelong learner who loves to study so much that she would work on another Ph.D. if she had the time. She’s the author or co-author of 60 peer-reviewed publications, 22 conference publications, two book chapters, and more than 150 presentations at conferences or symposiums.
Berti’s love for nature is obvious in her other hobby. When not researching or teaching, she paints nature scenes, flowers, and landscapes. She finds painting is effective in getting her active mind to relax. While her style is realistic, her fine attention to detail is symbolic of her scientific method and discipline. Her pictures are a set of virtual windows in her office to the many places she’s seen and captured. She alludes to this in commenting that while she has lab space at NDSU, she believes her true lab is in the field.
Berti is PI on a four year $3.7 million USDA-NIFA-AFRI grant which includes 12 researchers from four institutions and 11 graduate students (ten from NDSU). Within two years, the project has scaled quickly from NDSU test plots to thousands of acres in farmer’s fields as the adoption of cover crops and interseeding technologies has grown.
While Berti is quick to note that her work is a modification on existing systems and ideas, she’s most proud when she discusses the impact of her work on the people of the area. She gains much from her interactions with other researchers, extension professionals, and agricultural producers. “All that I learn, I pass on to the farmers and they give me back much as well,” she says. “They have great ideas – I love talking with them and learning what they need. In fact, the USDA-NIFA-AFRI project was born from farmers’ ideas in a cover crops workshop three years ago. They are practical and this is a simple solution which is why it works for them so well.”
We recognize Marisol Berti as our RCA Researcher of the month for November, 2018.
October 2018: Brad Benton, Ph.D.
Brad Benton’s office is nestled in the middle of Minard Hall at NDSU. His space is a traditional collegiate setting that features bookshelves packed with a formidable library of tomes, historical architecture prints and classical artwork on the walls, and an antique Sony radio tucked in the corner. Benton himself is a genuinely welcoming person who is interested in finding the commonalities that all people share, which makes
Benton is the October RCA Researcher of the Month. He’s a scholar, writer, and researcher in NDSU’s college of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences. He received his Ph.D. in History from UCLA and his MA in Latin American Studies from Tulane University. He’s been recognized with the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences Outstanding Research Award and has received grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) for his translations work and from the Fulbright Commission to conduct research in Spain. him a living example of the type of research work that drives him. He’s a comfortable conversationalist who listens and engages with equal vigor and he makes a mean cup of tea.
He is the author of a recently published book, The Lords of Tetzcoco: The Transformation of Indigenous Rule in Postconquest Central Mexico (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017) and has collaborated on the editing and translation of other works. The Lords of Tetzcoco, volume 104 in Cambridge’s prestigious and long-running Latin American Studies series, tells the story of native leaders in one Mexican town during the Spanish conquest in the 16th century. Benton sees the book as his most significant research contribution to date.
Benton looks for the human commonalities in his research. He believes that everyone has the same flaws and drives regardless of the time period in which they live and that sometimes the reasons behind these motivations can become fuzzy. In his book, he examines the colonization of the indigenous people in Mexico. His research shows that the old narratives describing native groups as merely powerless victims just isn’t accurate. Instead, many of the native people were more like partners to the Spaniards in creating the new societal models that followed the conquest.
Benton believes historians have a duty to challenge generally-accepted truths like this. “History is not black and white, but gray,” he says. “Humanities scholars are comfortable within these gray areas throughout history and we like to explore the tension that exists in them.” He challenges his students to think critically about commonly held historical narratives, to look beyond the oversimplifications that tend to plague them, and to see the ways in which people across time and place share a common human experience.
For Benton, research has been a critical part of his career development and he believes his research both informs and influences the stories he incorporates in his teaching. In researching The Lords of Tetzcoco, Benton spent time in historical archives located in Mexico (at an UNESCO site that was previously a federal penitentiary) and in Spain (at the Archive of the Indies in Seville). The 500 year old documents he examined were written in both Spanish and the native Nahuatl (Aztec) language. The handwriting, however, was as difficult to understand as the languages. Benton both anticipated and welcomed this challenge as deciphering handwriting is a skill he has nurtured, studied, and taught.
While he notes that working as an historian can be solitary work, Benton also remembers fondly the friendships he made in the archives with the other researchers from across the globe and how he has maintained them after returning home. As a scholar and researcher who values people, Benton appreciates learning about what binds people to each other. Benton puts this belief in action with his students by opening up his network of contacts to them. He see this as a benefit to all involved as it creates an ever-widening group of potential collaborators.
Brad Benton is a historian and scholar who values his network of peers and colleagues and the people who lived the histories of which he is so enamored. He is our October Researcher of the Month.
September 2018: Julia Bowsher, Ph.D.
Julia Bowsher absolutely loves insects. That is, except cockroaches. But otherwise, she finds all insects fascinating and she’s been studying them since she was five, when she first decided to become a scientist. And her fascination shows—whether it’s the giant antique poster in her office detailing the molting process of the desert locust or how much she gets energized when she’s talking about her work with the black scavenger fly.
Bowsher is being recognized as the inaugural RCA Researcher of the Month. As an NDSU Associate Professor, she received her PhD in evolution from Duke University and has taught and conducted research in evolutionary and developmental biology at NDSU since 2010. Bowsher recalls always wanting to be a scientist and at Duke, she found an inspirational mentor and kindred spirit in her adviser, Frederik Nijhout. She credits Nijhout with showing her the value of being brave enough to fail and for following the ever-changing path of curiosity that has led both to learn about a variety of insects.
Recently returning from a collaborative research study at the National University of Singapore with world-renowned black scavenger fly expert Rudolf Meier, Bowsher is excited about learning and bringing CRISPR technology to NDSU. A revolutionary technology, CRISPR allows for gene editing and quicker mutations, which speeds up her research.
Bowsher has recently been awarded a $2.85 million NSF EPSCoR Track-2 grant, studying Insect Cryobiology and Ecophysiology (ICE) Network: Integrating Genomics, Physiology, and Modeling. The goal of the ICE Network is to understand how bees overcome harsh winter conditions to successfully emerge and reproduce in spring. Bowsher has been studying bees for years and is proud of how the concept of “Save the Bees” has taken off. Along with her NDSU colleagues, Kendra Greenlee and Saeed Salem, the grant includes collaborators from the USDA, New Mexico State University, and the University of Wyoming.
Bowsher’s advice to new researchers is simple: success is all about time management. She’s taught time management philosophies to fellow faculty members and students. Finding time to do everything you need to do comes down to owning your time and that’s something you can develop and nurture. The other benefit to owning time is that it gives researchers the time to write, which is another piece of advice she offers. Bowsher sets aside an hour of each day to do her own writing because, as she puts it, “If you’re not writing, you’re not thinking. Plus, writing for an hour gives you a sense of accomplishment and that’s a great way to start every day.”
In her spare time, Bowsher is a triathlete and trains with her colleagues. Exercising with her peers is a great method to share ideas and converse about research. And most importantly, she says, it takes her mind off the exercise itself.