Workshop Speakers

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PLENARY SPEAKER

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Martin Keller

Director, National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Martin Keller has served as Director of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and President of the Alliance for Sustainable Energy, the company that operates NREL for the U.S. Department of Energy, since 2015. Under his leadership, the number of full-time employees at NREL has increased by more than 32%. Martin is a visionary leader who is committed to people, teams, and partnerships. He innovatively and pragmatically applies private sector best practices at NREL to achieve game-changing scientific outcomes. Working collaboratively with his leadership team, Martin developed a strategy for NREL focused on three key initiatives: integrated energy pathways, circular economy, and electrons to molecules. This strategy drives advanced scientific research, programs, projects, and partnerships at NREL. For example, NREL’s partnership portfolio—which includes Eaton Corporation, Wells Fargo, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, and more than 900 private and public sector organizations—has generated over $1 billion of research and development for the Laboratory. From 2006 to 2015, Martin led energy, biological, and environmental research programs at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). His efforts culminated in his being promoted to serve as the Associate Laboratory Director for the Energy and Environmental Sciences Directorate during his last six years at ORNL. Earlier In his career, Martin’s dedicated work in a variety of research management positions at Diversa Corporation enhanced and developed the microbiology expertise of this biotech company. Martin received his Ph.D. in Microbiology from the University of Regensburg, Germany.

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PLENARY SPEAKER

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Christopher Barrett

Professor, Cornell University

Chris Barrett is an agricultural and development economist at Cornell University. He is the Stephen B. and Janice G. Ashley Professor of Applied Economics and Management, and an International Professor of Agriculture at the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, as well as a Professor in the Departments of Economics and of Global Development, and a Fellow of the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability. He is an elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, and the African Association of Agricultural Economists, and has won numerous university, national and international awards for teaching, research and policy outreach and public service. He is co-editor-in-chief of the journal Food Policy, edits the Palgrave Studies in Agricultural Economics and Food Policy book series, co-edits the Elsevier Handbook of Agricultural Economics, volumes 5 and 6, and previously edited the American Journal of Agricultural Economics. His more than 350 publications have been cited more than 45,000 times. He has served as a principal investigator on more than $43 million in extramural research grants from various corporate, foundation, government agency and nongovernmental organization sponsors. He has supervised more than 100 graduate students and post-docs now working at leading universities and research institutes worldwide. He has held leadership roles at Cornell and externally and serves on a variety of boards and panels. He previously served on faculty at Utah State University and has been a visiting scholar at Harvard, Melbourne, Monash, Notre Dame, and Stanford Universities. 

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PLENARY SPEAKER

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Martin Bloem

Professor, Center for a Livable Future, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Martin W. Bloem, MD, PhD, is the inaugural Robert S. Lawrence Professor and director of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future in the Department of Environmental Health and Engineering at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He joined the Center in 2017, after 12 years as a senior nutrition adviser at the United Nations World Food Programme and as a Global Coordinator for the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS. At the Center, he is guiding research and programs to adopt a global view of food systems problems, emphasizing the needs of undernourished, low-income populations. Hailing from the Netherlands, Martin earned his medical degree from the University of Utrecht and his doctorate in Nutritional Sciences from the University of Maastricht. His career includes posts in the Netherlands, Thailand, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Singapore and Italy. He has co-authored and co-edited seven books and more than one hundred peer reviewed articles.

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PLENARY SPEAKER

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Liz Specht

Director of Science and Technology, The Good Food Institute

Liz Specht oversees GFI’s Science and Technology department to build a roadmap for accelerating alternative protein research while empowering scientists to execute on this vision. Her areas of expertise are plant-based meat, fermentation, technical analyses, forecasting and modeling, synthetic biology, and public speaking. Liz works to identify and forecast areas of technological need within the alternative protein field. Her efforts also catalyze research to address these needs while supporting researchers in academia and industry to move the field forward. Liz has a bachelor’s degree in chemical and biomolecular engineering from Johns Hopkins University, a doctorate in biological sciences from the University of California San Diego, and postdoctoral research experience from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prior to joining GFI in 2016, Liz had accumulated a decade of academic research experience in synthetic biology, recombinant protein expression, and development of genetic tools. She is a firm believer in the power of technology to enable us to meet growing food demands in a sustainable way.

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TEAMING & COLLABORATION SESSION

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İlkay Altıntaş

University of California San Diego: Chief Data Science Officer, San Diego Supercomputer Center / Founder & Director, WorDS Center of Excellence and WIFIRE Lab / Founding Fellow, Halicioglu Data Science Institute

Dr. İlkay Altıntaş, a research scientist at the University of California San Diego, is the Chief Data Science Officer of the San Diego Supercomputer Center as well as a Founding Fellow of the Halıcıoğlu Data Science Institute. She is the Founding Director of the Workflows for Data Science (WorDS) Center of Excellence and the WIFIRE Lab. The WoRDS Center specializes in the development of methods, cyberinfrastructure, and workflows for computational data science and its translation to practical applications. The WIFIRE Lab is focused on artificial intelligence methods for an all-hazards knowledge cyberinfrastructure, becoming a management layer from the data collection to modeling efforts, and has achieved significant success in helping to manage wildfires. Since joining SDSC in 2001, she has been a principal investigator and a technical leader in a wide range of cross-disciplinary projects. With a specialty in scientific workflows, she leads collaborative teams to deliver impactful results through making computational data science work more reusable, programmable, scalable, and reproducible. Her work has been applied to many scientific and societal domains including bioinformatics, geoinformatics, high-energy physics, multi-scale biomedical science, smart cities, and smart manufacturing. She is also a popular MOOC instructor in the field of “big” data science and reached out to more than a million learners across any populated continent. Among the awards she has received are the 2015 IEEE TCSC Award for Excellence in Scalable Computing for Early Career Researchers and the 2017 ACM SIGHPC Emerging Woman Leader in Technical Computing Award. Ilkay received a Ph.D. degree from the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

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CONVERGENCE SESSION

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Sarah Beebout

National Program Leader, Sustainable Agriculture Systems, USDA

Dr. Sarah Beebout is National Program Leader for Sustainable Intensification with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (USDA ARS), based in Beltsville, MD. Her passion is improving the environmental, social, and economic sustainability of food and agriculture systems, including crops, livestock, and people. She has been with ARS since 2019, following 15 years in sustainable cropping systems research at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines. She grew up in Iowa, received her BS in chemistry from Wheaton College (IL), her MS in soil chemistry from Texas A&M University (TX), and her PhD in soil science from Cornell University (NY). She has in-depth experience working in multiple cultures within the US and during her time in Asia. 

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CONVERGENCE SESSION

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Crysten Blaby-Haas

Biologist, Brookhaven National Laboratory

Dr. Blaby-Haas is the lead principal investigator of the DOE-sponsored Quantitative Plant Science Initiative at Brookhaven National Laboratory and adjunct professor in the Department of Biochemistry & Cell Biology at Stony Brook University. Dr. Blaby-Haas received her PhD from the University Florida in Microbiology and Cell Science. As a postdoctoral fellow at UCLA, Dr. Blaby-Haas received the prestigious NIH Ruth L. Kirschstein NRSA Postdoctoral Fellowship and the 2015 Boyer-Peter Award for her research on the diverse and complex world of metal usage by plants and algae. In 2015, Dr. Blaby-Haas moved to BNL to establish the Quantitative Plant Science Initiative, a team-oriented consortium of researchers from the National Laboratories, academia, and USDA-ARS who leverage multi-disciplinary research to address the challenge of trace-nutrient limitation to sustainable bioenergy. Dr. Blaby-Haas’s research leverages genomics and post-genomic experimentation to discover and understand biological pathways for the biogenesis of enzymes, metabolites, and biomaterials, specifically related to transition metals and photosynthesis. She has over a decade of experience in genome redesign and engineering in prokaryotes (archaea, gram-negative, gram-positive, cyanobacteria) and eukaryotes (algae, plants, yeast), synthetic (Bio-CAD, DNA assembly and gene editing) and systems biology approaches (transcriptomics, proteomics, metabolomics), and HTP assay design.

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CONVERGENCE SESSION

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Ximing Cai

Lovell Endowed Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Associate Director, Institute for Sustainability, Energy and Environment, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 

Professor Ximing Cai is a leading scholar in hydro-economic modeling. His current research areas include integrated food-energy-water systems (INFEWS) analysis and coupled human-natural system analysis with an emphasis of human interferences in hydrological processes. He has authored or co-authored over 190 peer reviewed journal papers, 3 books and several monographs. He is an AGU Fellow and served as Editor for Water Resources Research (Am. Geophysical Union, AGU, 2012-2017). He has worked as a consultant to the World Bank, United Nations and other international agencies. Before joining the faculty of the University of Illinois in 2003, Professor Cai was a Research Fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, D.C. He holds a B.S. in Water Resources Engineering (1990) and an M.S. in Hydrology and Water Resources (1994) from Tsinghua University, Beijing, and Ph.D. in Water Resources Engineering (1999) from the University of Texas at Austin. 

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CONVERGENCE SESSION

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Brian Curtis

Founder & CEO, Concentric Power

Brian Curtis, Founder & CEO of Concentric Power Inc., has over 20 years of engineering, finance and strategic management experience in energy and high growth technology industries. He founded Concentric Power in 2011. Curtis has spent his career in and out of power plants and processing facilities for the energy and food industries. He started his career as a design engineer at the power plant on campus at the University of California, Los Angeles and further honed his mechanical systems design skills as a refinery engineer for Chevron. Curtis later joined the U.S. Department of Energy where he worked within the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Group, along with several clean energy startups. Curtis holds a B.S. in mechanical engineering from UCLA, with an emphasis in electro-mechanical systems design and control, and an MBA from MIT. 

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CONVERGENCE SESSION

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John Cushman

Foundation Professor, Graduate Program Director, University of Nevada-Reno

John C. Cushman is a Foundation Professor at the University of Nevada and Director of the Biochemistry Graduate Program in the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology. He earned a B.S. degree in Biology from Ursinus College, and his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Microbiology from Rutgers University. He was awarded an NSF postdoctoral fellowship in Plant Biology and conducted postdoctoral research at the University of Arizona on the induction of Crassulacean Acid Metabolism (CAM) by environmental stress. Professor Cushman’s research is focused on plant responses to abiotic stress with an emphasis on cold, salinity, drought responses and mechanisms of desiccation tolerance. More recently, his laboratory has used engineered tissue succulence and crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) to improve the water-use efficiency, salinity, and water-deficit stress tolerance in model plant species with the long-term goal of moving these water-conserving adaptations into food, feed, and (bio)fuel crops enabling production on marginal or abandoned agricultural lands. His laboratory is also investigating the productivity and irrigation response of highly productive CAM crops such as cactus pear (Opuntia spp.) to serve as food and feed sources and as a biofuel feedstock for semi-arid and arid regions of the world. His research is currently funded by the Nevada Agricultural Experiment Station, the National Science Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture-National Institute of Food and Agriculture. He currently serves on the editorial boards of several journals including The Plant Journal, Journal of Plant Physiology, and the Journal of the Professional Association for Cactus Development.

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CONVERGENCE SESSION

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Tim Hade

Co-Founder and COO, Scale Microgrid Solutions

Tim Hade (LEED AP) is a co-founder and the Chief Operating Officer at Scale Microgrid Solutions, where he focuses on developing sustainable distributed generation technologies to serve mission critical facilities. Prior to founding Scale, Tim served as the Business Development Manager for ENER-G Rudox (now Centrica Business Solutions), where he oversaw development of the company’s microgrid projects. In 2015, Tim’s white paper “Sustainable Load Balancing: Integrating Distributed Natural Gas, Solar PV, and Energy Storage Assets” was named the 2015 Renewable Energy World Paper of the Year. Prior to joining the clean tech industry, Tim served on Active Duty as an officer in the United States Air Force. He holds a B.S. from the United States Air Force Academy, an MBA from Stanford University. 

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CONVERGENCE SESSION

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Alex Grossman

Director of Communications, Global Greengrants Fund

Alex Grossman is the Director of Communications at Global Greengrants Fund. She has a background in indigenous rights, women’s rights, and environmental policy. Alex previously developed communications content and strategy for The Center of Effective Global Action at U.C. Berkeley and The Climate Reality Project. Alex has a M.A. in Latin American Studies and International Development from Boston University and B.A.s in International Relations and Anthropology from the University of Colorado Boulder.

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CONVERGENCE SESSION

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Craig Gundersen

Professor, University of Illinois

Craig Gundersen is ACES Distinguished Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois, is on the Technical Advisory Group for Feeding America, is the lead researcher on Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap project, and is the Managing Editor for Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy.  He is also a Round Table Fellow of the Farm Foundation, a Faculty Affiliate of the Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities (LEO) at the University of Notre Dame, and a Research Fellow at the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty.  His research concentrates on the causes and consequences of food insecurity and on the evaluation of food assistance programs, with an emphasis on SNAP.

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CONVERGENCE SESSION

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Michael Kudenov

Associate Professor, North Carolina State University

Dr. Kudenov obtained his BS in Electrical Engineering from the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 2005 and his PhD in Optical Sciences from the University of Arizona in 2009. He is currently an Associate Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering at North Carolina State University. His research interests focus on use-inspired imaging spectrometer and polarimeter sensors for applications spanning agriculture, plant phenotyping, space situational awareness, and quality control. He also serves as the academic advisor for the NC State SPIE student chapter.

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CONVERGENCE SESSION

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Dirk Maier

Professor, Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, Iowa State University

Dr. Maier is a Professor and Post-Harvest Engineer in the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, the Department of Animal Science, and the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Iowa State University where he is responsible for leading an internationally recognized research and outreach program in post-harvest engineering and technology applied to global food and nutrition security. He serves as the director and lead PI of the International Consortium for Innovation in Post-Harvest Loss and Food Waste Reduction which focuses on building academic and entrepreneurial capacity of the next generation by facilitating multi-institutional projects, providing linkage to its members, collaborators, and larger network to successfully conduct a range of capacity building programs for sustainable food systems. Dr. Maier is a registered professional engineer, a fellow of the American Society of Agricultural & Biological Engineers, and a member and officer of several academic, professional and scholarly societies. He has traveled extensively throughout the world as a speaker and participant in many national and international industry meetings, scientific conferences, and technical assistance projects. He currently has active projects in the U.S., Tunisia, Ghana, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, and Rwanda. His most recent graduate students are from the U.S., Ivory Coast, DR Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Ghana, and the Philippines. 

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CONVERGENCE SESSION

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Sruthi Narayanan

Assistant Professor, Crop Eco-physiology, Clemson University, Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences

Dr. Sruthi Narayanan, an assistant professor of crop eco-physiology, joined the department of Plant and Environmental Sciences at Clemson University in 2015. She grew up in a farming family and knew the challenges of production agriculture which was her motivation to pursue a career as a crop scientist. She earned her bachelor's degree in Agriculture in 2007 from Kerala Agriculture University, India and a Master's degree in Agronomy in 2011 and Ph.D. in Agronomy in 2015 from Kansas State University. Her passion has led to the development of a cutting-edge research program at Clemson, focusing on interdisciplinary research, relating climate change, food security and sustainable agriculture. Her two broad research themes are crop response and adaptation to climate change and improving field crop production through sustainable agronomic practices. Her research program focuses on understanding how different crops develop responses to abiotic stresses, such as drought or heat, at various levels – field, plant, cellular, and molecular. Her novel lipidomic approach to characterize plant heat tolerance is widely acclaimed. Her nationally recognized research program finds its roots in stakeholder needs as she spearheads the mandate of the Land Grant system's mission. Dr. Narayanan combines instruction and research to engage students and promote critical thinking. She teaches graduate and undergraduate courses, offer internship training to undergraduates in her laboratory, and through a well-funded program, advises Master’s and PhD students. Her goal is to prepare future generation of scientists who would carry the vision of sustainable cropping systems which provide food security for all.   

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CONVERGENCE SESSION

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Megan O'Rourke

National Program Leader, Sustainable Agriculture Systems, USDA

Dr. O’Rourke is an agroecologist with scientific expertise in conservation, pest management, and climate change.  Prior to joining NIFA, Dr. O’Rourke was an associate professor of Sustainable Food Systems at Virginia Tech and served as a climate change advisor in the U.S. Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) and Agency for International Development (USAID).  She has led research in the U.S. to develop and evaluate on-farm conservation strategies for field crops, vegetables, and grasslands, and in S.E. Asia to advance sustainable pest management for vegetable production.  She holds a Ph.D. in Ecology from Cornell University, an M.S. in Entomology from Iowa State University, and a B.S. in Biology from Stony Brook University. 

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CONVERGENCE SESSION

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Zack Pecenak

Lead Engineer, XENDEE Inc.

Zack Pecenak, PhD. is the lead engineer at XENDEE Inc. He is a thought leader in the microgrid space and has worked extensively on agriculture energy projects. Before Joining XENDEE he was a researcher with UCSD and the Air Force Research Lab.

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CONVERGENCE SESSION

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Shaked Regev

Director of International Engagement, The Modern Agriculture Foundation

Shaked holds a B.Sc. and M.Sc. in Biomedical Engineering from Ben Gurion University and is currently a PhD student at the Institute of Computational and Mathematical Engineering at Stanford University. His research involves physical, mathematical, and computational modeling of biological and energy systems. Shaked is Director of International Engagement and Co-founder at “The Modern Agriculture Foundation” (MAF), an Israeli non-profit organization set out transform global food culture by replacing traditional animal-based foods with Clean Meat, Cellular Agriculture and plant-based alternatives. MAF was founded in 2014 and was the first organization in Israel with this focus. Due in large part to MAF's work over the years. Israel has become a world pioneer in the field of alternative proteins. In addition to overall oversight, Shaked's main fields of contribution at “The Modern Agriculture Foundation” are fundraising, lecturing, media, writing and translating. Shaked aspires to make commercial clean meat a reality, both with his work at the foundation and, in the future, as a researcher in the field. 

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CONVERGENCE SESSION

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Erik Runkle

Professor / Floriculture Extension Specialist, Department of Horticulture, Michigan State University

Dr. Erik Runkle is a Professor and Extension Specialist in the Department of Horticulture at Michigan State University. Erik obtained a B.S. in Ornamental Horticulture from the University of Illinois and an M.S. and Ph.D. in Horticulture at Michigan State University. Since he joined the faculty in 2001, he and his graduate research team have performed numerous practical experiments in controlled environments to determine the effects of light, temperature, and other environmental factors on plant growth and development. Experiments have been performed on a wide range of herbaceous specialty crops including leafy greens and ornamentals. Erik recently developed the Controlled-Environment Lighting Laboratory to better understand how the photon spectrum can be manipulated to produce crops with desired attributes. He is the director of OptimIA, a USDA-supported Specialty Crop Research Initiative project on improving the profitability and sustainability of indoor leafy-greens production.  

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CONVERGENCE SESSION

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Luke and Yvonne Rosenbohm

Owners of Better Earth Logistics (Peoria, Illinois) 

Luke grew up in Peoria working on a farm and helping his parents start Better Earth Compost and is now a retired Air National Guard Pilot with a degree in Aviation management. Yvonne was a dance instructor and outreach worker in Scotland before marrying Luke and moving to the United States in 2012. They are now the proud owners of Better Earth Logistics, offering custom recycling services for food scraps in Central Illinois focused on closing the loop of sustainability through end-to-end composting services. The company launched in 2015 to be a hauling solution for a customer of Better Earth Compost. After testing the waters with the seasonal work, they quickly saw the need to divert more food scraps from the landfill and help other businesses go green. They have focused on education, creating practical solutions, and teaching the younger generation with the goal of making composting the norm not the exception. The best part about this small business is seeing real results with multiple closed loops where nothing is wasted and the earth wins!

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CONVERGENCE SESSION

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Heike Sederoff

Professor of Plant Biology, North Carolina State University

Dr. Heike Sederoff is a Professor at North Carolina State University, where she is involved in research, teaching and training. She serves as the chair for the Systems and Synthetic Biology Cluster at NCSU and is a member of the NCSU Research Leadership Academy. Her research interest and experience combine the elucidation of basic plant signaling pathways to sense and respond to environmental changes and the genetic engineering of novel pathways to improve plant performance and resilience for sustainable agriculture.  She received her undergraduate and graduate training at the University of Goettingen in Germany and was awarded a postdoctoral fellowship from the Alexander-von-Humboldt Foundation to research the molecular interactions of plants and microbes at the Flinders University in Adelaide (South Australia) and University of Western Australia (Perth).  Dr. Sederoff has successfully led large research projects funded by NASA, DOE, NSF and USDA. Research under her guidance let to discoveries disseminated as publications and patents. As a coPI and trainer of two graduate training programs funded by the NIH and NSF in “Molecular Biotechnology” and “Agricultural Biotechnology in Food, Energy, and Water Systems” she is training students in inter- and cross disciplinary projects. Dr. Sederoff is actively involved in several international projects. She is leading a research effort to improve native crops (lupin, quinoa) via gene editing at the University in Arequipa, Peru, and collaborating on a large research project with Danish universities to evaluate the molecular basis for crop improvement using soil microbial communities.

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CONVERGENCE SESSION

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Rick Vanzura

CEO, Freight Farms

Rick Vanzura joined Freight Farms as CEO after 20+ years spent in executive roles at major consumer brands, the most notable being his role as the original CEO of Wahlburgers where he grew the burger concept from a single unit to a $100 million brand. Rick's leadership focuses on transforming and growing consumer and technology-enabled businesses, which he combines with a passion for sustainability. Originally from Albuquerque, NM, Rick received his BsC from Santa Clara University and his MBA from Harvard University. 

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CONVERGENCE SESSION

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Shuyang Zhen

Assistant Professor, Texas A&M University

Shuyang Zhen is an assistant professor in Controlled Environment Agriculture in the Horticultural Sciences Department at Texas A&M. She received her Ph.D. in Horticulture from University of Georgia in 2017 and worked as post-doctoral fellow and then research scientist in the Crop Physiology Laboratory at Utah State University from 2017 to 2020.  Her current research focuses on environmental plant physiology and the optimization of specialty food and ornamental crop production in controlled environments. Her research interests include photosynthesis and crop yield, LED lighting, plant nutrition, hydroponics, and the selection of crops with improved performance in greenhouses and indoor vertical farms.