Students in a field.

Learn what research students are conducting in the Applied Plant Science Department.

May 21, 2019
Writer: Kaitlyn Sims

The Department of Applied Plant Science conducts mentored student research (MSR) projects each semester. With faculty guiding them, students go into the laboratory or out into the field and get hands-on experience as they plant, harvest, and collect data. The students take the data they’ve collected and present it both to their peers in the classroom, professionals in the industry, and to the public at conferences.

The MSR program runs throughout the year with various projects being conducted during each season. The winter months consist mostly of lab/greenhouse work. Come spring, students start planting crops, measuring out the plots and maintaining the fields throughout the summer until harvest in the fall. 

According to Department of Applied Plant Science Chair, Nels Hansen, “MSR helps students synthesize what they are learning in the classroom and laboratory settings and apply them to a project that demands active participation, creativity, and commitment. These characteristics will be critical for students to develop as they prepare for careers and service.”

MSR projects are often sponsored by industry leaders in the field. J.R. Simplot, The Mosaic Company, Organic Market, and Humic Growth Solutions are some of the companies that students have done work for through their projects. These companies actually use the data students gather to evaluate their products.

Students can also get involved in an MSR project sponsored by the Idaho Wheat Commission. In these projects, students plant, harvest, and collect data from the wheat that they test. Brother Humphreys, an applied plant science faculty member, oversees these projects involving the Idaho Wheat Commission.

“Working on these projects gives students a vision of what research is in their field,” Humphreys said.

In the lab, students work on comparing different fertilizers. They compare enhanced efficiency fertilizers amongst themselves as well as with traditional fertilizers. As part of the process, students will examine nitrogen loss from nitrogen fertilizers, perform incubation tests, and measure how ammonia volatilizes off from the fertilizers. 

Faculty member, Jared Williams, oversees several field and lab projects within MSR. This summer, students under William’s direction are going to be working with two different companies, J.R. Simplot and Humic Growth, on five different projects: two wheat studies working with biostimulants, a potato study, and two lab studies determining phosphorus use efficiency in fertilizers. 

Patricio Ortiz, a junior studying agronomy crop and soil science, who has been involved in multiple MSR projects during his time at BYU-Idaho, says the experience has been a tremendous benefit to his education.

“Students get real-world experience, and they learn about all that’s involved in research…and the companies benefit from that because they get good quality data from those trials,” Ortiz said.

Under Brother Humphreys’ direction, students will also be working with the University of Idaho on a wheat variety trial testing different wheat cultivars at different locations throughout southeast Idaho. They will be testing multiple varieties of hard white and soft white winter wheat. 

After the students have compiled all of their data from the various projects that they’ve been working on, they create visual presentations and a write-up report of their data with the help of their faculty mentor. Students take that data and present it at conferences such as the BYU-Idaho Research and Creative Works Conference and ASA-CSSA-SSSA International Annual Meeting.

Brother Ross Spackman, Associate Dean of Professional Development says the students who participate in mentored student research projects are learning how to use the scientific method as well as teamwork and writing skills. 

“They start taking ownership of their education better if they’re involved with research,” Spackman said.

Students can use their experiences from their projects to teach their fellow classmates. This creates an enhanced learning environment that benefits all students, not just those directly involved in MSR.  

“The knowledge that’s being learned by the students on the team doesn’t just stay with them. It ends up in the classroom,” Williams said.

If you are interested in learning more about these projects, visit the BYU-Idaho Research and Creative Works Conference in the I-Center courts at the end of each semester.