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UCSC AgTech Symposium

April 23, 2021 @ 1:00 pm 4:00 pm

New technologies in our agro-food system hold both tremendous benefits and potential harms. This era will require inter-disciplinary expertise and cross-disciplinary dialogue to maximize benefits and minimize harms from technological change. UCSC is well-positioned to contribute. In October 2020, faculty from several departments at UC Santa Cruz met for a preliminary discussion about what a more coordinated AgTech focus could look like at UCSC. Some strengths identified include strong student demand, experience and reputation of CASFS (i.e. agroecology and sustainable food systems), a strong commitment to social justice, expertise in sensors, robotics, drones and biomolecular engineering, power systems, partnerships with local farmers and community organizations, and strengths in critical social sciences, particularly in the areas of food and agriculture. As a next step we invite faculty, graduate students and researchers from all five divisions of UCSC to participate in a symposium on Friday, April 23 at 1:00pm, hosted virtually by the Institute for Social Transformation. This symposium will provide an opportunity for sharing research, in-depth discussion to better understand each others’ work, and identify possible synergies and areas for collaboration.

The symposium will start with faculty lightning talks, followed by small group discussions and a panel who will facilitate a conversation about how to work together across fields and disciplines. We also hope that these conversations will help us define what AgTech means on our campus. Faculty, professional researchers, and graduate students will share a 3-4 minute lightning talks about some aspect of their work and how it relates to, or could relate to, the field of AgTech (whatever that may mean to you). Administrators, staff and others who support interdisciplinary research are also encouraged to attend. Note: If you signed up to give a lightning talk, you do not need to register.

Symposium Schedule

1:00-1:05pm Welcome

1:05-2:05pm Lightning Talks: Group 1

  • Aaron Hunter, PhD student in Computer Science and Engineering: “Open Source Autonomous Vehicle Controller” (slide presentation)
  • Jeffrey Bury, Professor of Environmental Studies: “Agtech in the Andes: Climate Change, Water Resources, and Livelihoods in the Cordillera Blanca, Peru” (slide presentation)
  • Melissa Gwyn, Associate Professor of Art: “Rust Belt Solutions: Healing Land and People”
  • Mohammad Jafari, Postdoctoral Scholar in the Department of Applied Mathematics: “Towards Sustainable Agriculture Technology by Using Machine Learning Techniques”
  • Grant Hartzog, Professor of Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology (MCD); “Global and Community Health: Opportunities for AgTech” (slide presentation)
  • Shun-Nan Chiang, PhD Candidate in Sociology: “How Contested Agri-Innovations for Nutrition Co-Exist in the Same Infrastructural Environment” (slide presentation)
  • Jon Detka, PhD Student in Environmental Studies: “Developing low-cost leaf wetness and fog event sensors for plant disease monitoring”
  • Steve McGuire, Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering: “Multimodal Scene Understanding in Field Robotics”
  • Gregory Gilbert, Professor of Environmental Studies: “Computerized tomography for tree health and hazard assessment”
  • J. Xavier Prochaska, Professor of Astronomy & Astrophysics: “Deep Learning of Sea Surface Temperature Patterns to Identify Ocean Extremes” (slide presentation)
  • Rebecca DuBois, Associate Professor of Biomolecular Engineering: “New vaccines for agriculture”
  • Julie Guthman, Professor of Community Studies: “The funding pitch as window onto the limitations of Silicon Valley ag tech”
  • Ricardo Sanfelice, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Director of Cyber-Physical Research Center: “Agriculture Cyber-Physical Systems (ACPS): Opportunities and Challenges”

2:05-2:10pm Break

2:10-3:05pm Lightning Talks: Group 2

  • Sylvie Childress, Director of UCSC Greenhouses: “Opportunities for AgTech connections at the UCSC Greenhouses” (slide presentation)
  • Ingrid Parker, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Faculty Executive Director of the UCSC Greenhouses: “Cannabis & Hemp Initiative for Interdisciplinary Plant Studies”
  • Michael Loik, Professor of Environmental Studies: “Trade-offs between glasshouse conditions and plant production” (slide presentation)
  • Brian Nguyen, PhD Student in Electrical and Computer Engineering: “The Continuous Monitoring of Nitrate Content in Soil using Time-Domain-Reflectivity”
  • Chris Benner, Professor of Environmental Studies and Sociology and Director of the Institute for Social Transformation and Everett Program: “Delivering Insecurity: E-commerce and the Future of Work in Food Retail” (slide presentation)
  • Jennifer Parker, Professor of Art: “OpenLab Collaborative Research Center and The Algae Society: Bio Art & Design”
  • Katia Obraczka, Professor of Computer Science and Engineering: “IoT for Environmental Monitoring: Applications to Wildfire Mitigation and Preparedness”
  • Stacy Philpott, Professor of Environmental Studies and Director of Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems: “Insects, community gardens, and ag-technology”
  • Robert Wilson, Postdoctoral Researcher in Electrical and Computer Engineering: “Psychophysiological Modeling for the Improvement of Human-Robot Interaction”
  • Maywa Montenegro, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies: “Digital Agriculture & Surveillance Capitalism”
  • Zouheir Rezki, Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering: “Agro Health Monitoring via Wireless Communication Networks”
  • Lissa Caldwell, Professor of Anthropology: “What If? Hacktivism and Anticipatory Food Justice”
  • Pallab Sarker, Associate Research Professor in Environmental Studies: “Recycling microalgal co-product to develop ocean-friendly fish-free feed for sustainable aquaculture”

3:05-3:10pm Break

3:10-3:30pm Lightning Talks: Group 3 

  • Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS): “Farmer creation, adaptation and adoption of technologies: research, extension and evaluation strategies”

Damian Parr, Research and Education Coordinator at CASFS
Joji Muramoto, Assistant Cooperative Extension Specialist at CASFS and Environmental Studies
Darryl Wong, Farm Site and Research Lands Manager at CASFS and Environmental Studies
Jan Perez, Food Systems Research and Education Specialist at CASFS

  • Summer Sullivan, PhD Student in Environmental Studies: “Different Fields, Different Farms?: An Investigation into the Synergies and Frictions into Ag-Tech and Agroecology”

3:30-3:50pm Break-out Discussions

  • What have you learned today that was new, interesting and valuable, that you would be interested in pursuing?
  • What do you see as valuable areas of strength at UCSC AgTech that are worth supporting/building?
  • What would you like to see as valuable next steps in developing more AgTech work at UCSC?

3:50-4:00pm Closing & Next Steps


April 23, 2021
1:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Event Category:


Institute for Social Transformation