Fellows Focus on Food, Sustainability, Agriculture

Meet the 2017-2018 Global Food Initiative fellows: Holly Mayton, Audrey Lim, Raymond Iu, and Lihua Xu.

Four UC Riverside students are joining the 2017-2018 UC Global Food Initiative (GFI) fellowship class and will continue to focus on research and advocacy regarding food, agriculture, and sustainability issues.

They are part of a group of 50 University of California graduate and undergraduate students. The class represents all 10 UC campuses, as well as UC Agriculture and Natural Resources and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

UC President Janet Napolitano launched this program in the fall of 2014 as a systemwide initiative that aims to put UC, California, and the world on a pathway to sustainability. Each participant receives a $4,000 award to help fund student-generated research, projects or internships that support the initiative’s efforts to address food security, health, and sustainability.

This year’s UCR’s fellowship recipients are:

  • Holly Mayton, a Ph.D. candidate in chemical and environmental engineering who is also serving as the campus GFI ambassador. As the GFI ambassador she is tasked with supporting UCR’s GFI fellows,and leading student engagement and communication efforts regarding the GFI.
  • Audrey Lim, neuroscience major
  • Raymond Iu, bioengineering major
  • Lihua Xu, a Ph.D. candidate in chemical and environmental engineering

“The UC Global Food Initiative fellowship program plays a critical role in helping to shape the next generation of agricultural leaders and innovators,” said Deborah Pagliaccia, co-leader of UCR GFI working group. “The four UCR Global Food Initiative fellows proposed exciting projects aimed to solve real world problems affecting the national agri-food systems to promote healthy and sustainable communities. I look forward to assisting them in their endeavor.”

Meet the fellows and learn about their projects:

Holly Mayton, fellow and GFI ambassador
Project title: Leveraging GFI to Enhance Interdisciplinary Food Networks and Communication at UC Riverside

Holly Mayton

Through her role as an ambassador, she will support student engagement with food systems through farm tours, cooking demonstrations, and knowledge of the diverse research happening at UCR. Doing so, she said, will ultimately create more awareness around food and therefore lead to less food insecurity. “I aim to use the coming year to create more of these opportunities by connecting GFI fellows to other parts of campus, planning local farm and food facility tours, and inviting agricultural researchers to collaborate and interact in both formal and informal settings,” Mayton said.

As a fellow herself, the program has allowed her to continue her doctoral work. In the lab Mayton researches how pathogens such as how E. coli and salmonella travel and stick to spinach leaf surfaces in different water chemistries.

“By traveling to farms in California and Arizona, talking to food safety managers, and learning more about food and water policy in California through GFI, I’ve been able to plan and implement research that will be relevant and useful to real food safety challenges in the leafy greens industry,” Mayton said.

Audrey Lim
Project title: R’Pantry and Beyond: Increasing Awareness and Building a Community

Audrey Lim

Lim’s work will continue to support the R’Pantry in its effort to provide emergency food to UCR students in need, as well as providing students with additional skills and resources. Lim intends to create a space for students to share ideas, as well as involve the community to help students eat healthier and fight food insecurity. The goal is to also increase the number of volunteers supporting this outreach effort.

Lim will be working with students, staff, and faculty to learn more regarding public policy and other aspects of food issues. Lim has also reached out to Glocally Connected, a Riverside non-profit created to support immigrants and refugees. Recently, UCR hosted a free evening discussion titled “Re-envisioning Refugees: Empowering through Education.”

“Through this fellowship, I hope to build a foundation for student advocacy in raising awareness of food insecurity and encourage the innovation of new ideas on how to fight food insecurity, particularly at UCR where we have a higher percentage of food insecure students,” Lim said.

Raymond Iu
Project title: Automatic Plant Watering System Optimization

Raymond Iu

Mass production of food has progressed over the last century, yet global food distribution is unable to sustainably reach every person, Iu said.

Iu is working with UCR’s Technology Evolutionary Components Center, also known as the TEC Center, to solve this issue by creating an affordable automated greenhouse to grow produce for farmers, homes, or institutions.

In order to save water, Iu is creating an automatic system that collects data on water consumption of the crops in the greenhouse by imaging plants as well as possibly determining nutrient needs. From the first generation data, the most successful plants will be mapped to find the best water and nutrient needs.

The application of this project will likely be used at a future greenhouse that will sit at the R’Garden.

“The GFI fellowship enables me to work on tangible engineering skills that will serve me well in my future of graduate school or industry. These skills include Solidworks, 3D printing, and design. I feel very fortunate to be working with my lab, the TEC Center, under Director Douglas Hill, along with my teammates, Melissa Chou and Jacob Rider, to bring water conservation and cooling to the extreme heat of Riverside greenhouses. Overall, GFI provides me the opportunity to exercise my engineering skills learned in class and lab and apply them to a very real world problem,” Iu said.

Lihua Xu
Project title: UCR Initiative on Photovoltaics for Light, Energy, and Farming

Lihua Xu

Xu will be working with UCR’s Initiative on Photovoltaics for Light, Energy and Farming (UCR P-LEAF), which incorporates experimental and theoretical work to create the first generation of organic semiconducting materials specifically tailored for implementation as agricultural covers.

Xu plans to design organic materials that absorb sunlight to support plant growth. She envisions that solar cells made from such flexible and affordable materials could be used as covers or roofs of greenhouses in order to provide them with power, particularly when separated from the electrical supply grid. These energy-generating devices will be transparent to the shorter wavelengths of sunlight needed for plant growth and use the longer wavelengths for generating the power needed to heat, irrigate, or otherwise run the greenhouse, creating a zero-energy usage farming structure.

“Thanks to the GFI program, I could continue my research utilizing transparent solar cells devices as novel covers and roof materials for greenhouses. With their financial support, I will further investigate how the power generated by these devices could help to heat, irrigate or otherwise run greenhouse operations, which would help me in making progress towards creating a zero-energy usage farming structure,” Xu said.

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