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How Distant Sensing Applied sciences Improve Meals Manufacturing

You would possibly be capable of take the lady off the farm, however you possibly can’t essentially take the farm out of the lady, because the saying goes.

That was the case for Melba Crawford, who as a young person couldn’t wait to go away her household’s farm in Illinois to pursue an engineering profession.



Purdue College, West Lafayette, Ind.


Professor of civil engineering, agronomy, and electrical and laptop engineering




College of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Ohio State College, Columbus

However her engineering path finally led her again to agriculture. She has developed distant sensing applied sciences that, amongst different makes use of, map crops extra precisely, improve crop yields, and enhance administration practices whereas lowering the time it takes to pick out promising new hybrids.

Crawford is a professor of civil engineering, agronomy, and electrical and laptop engineering at Purdue College, in West Lafayette, Ind. In agronomy, she collaborates with researchers in plant genetics, plant physiology, agrometeorology, and soil science. In engineering, she focuses on creating strategies to research distant sensing knowledge.

For her “contributions to distant sensing expertise and management in its software for the good thing about humanity,” the IEEE Fellow is the recipient of this 12 months’s IEEE Mildred Dresselhaus Medal. The award is sponsored by Google.

An early environmental activist

As a teen within the Sixties, Crawford was drawn to the U.S. house program; she initially aimed for a profession within the aerospace trade.

“Area was actually inspiring in these days,” she says. “I didn’t need to be an astronaut, as a result of I’m claustrophobic. I used to be within the design and operation of airplanes and spacecraft.”

However throughout her time as a freshman on the College of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, the aerospace trade went via a interval of mass layoffs. She realized that aerospace was a boom-and-bust trade, she says.

In the meantime, she says, environmental points had been gaining consideration because the influence of acid rain and contamination of lakes and rivers grew to become higher understood.

“Folks had been actually inquisitive about clear air and clear water, so I made a decision there would all the time be curiosity within the atmosphere,” Crawford says. She switched her main to civil and environmental engineering.

“You research many areas in civil engineering, together with buildings, soils, transportation, and the atmosphere,” she says. After graduating in 1970, she stayed on on the college to earn a grasp’s diploma in civil engineering in 1973, specializing in environmental engineering.

She then pursued a Ph.D. in methods engineering at Ohio State College, in Columbus. Her analysis there centered on model-based system approaches and arithmetic.

When it got here time to discover a matter for her dissertation, she discovered that the U.S. Environmental Safety Company, in implementing the 1970 Clear Air Act, was struggling to determine baselines for air-quality ranges, she says.

“To make the most of these laws, you first should set up the place you presently are with air-quality ranges,” she says. Her dissertation centered on creating strategies to find out a baseline for concentrations of pollution within the ambiance primarily based on historic spatial-temporal measurements. She earned her Ph.D. in 1981.

She had deliberate to change into a advisor for an environmentally associated group, however throughout her final 12 months at Ohio State a college member grew to become sick, and the division requested her to show one in all his lessons.

“That’s how my profession took a flip towards academia,” she says.

Distant sensing applied sciences to sort out earth science issues

In 1980 Crawford joined the mechanical engineering division on the College of Texas at Austin, staying for 25 years. As a member of the commercial engineering and operations analysis group, she developed superior strategies for picture evaluation and purposes for mapping and monitoring land cowl utilizing satellite tv for pc imagery.

She additionally based an interdisciplinary analysis and purposes growth program in space-based and airborne distant sensing at UT. As a part of that effort, she put in and operated a receiving station to accumulate and analyze knowledge from the U.S. Nationwide Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s satellites over prolonged areas of North America and the Gulf of Mexico.

Her workforce’s analysis program included tasks in Australia and Africa. The workforce additionally developed new algorithms for evaluation of hyperspectral imagery, which offers detailed info throughout the electromagnetic spectrum to detect chemistry-based modifications in vegetation.

Agriculture didn’t come again on her radar till 2006, when she joined the Purdue college. The college already had a 30-year historical past of collaboration between the universities of engineering and agriculture in utilizing distant sensing to handle issues in agriculture comparable to detection and mapping illness in crops. Researchers initially used aerial images, then satellite tv for pc photographs. By way of the college’s Laboratory for Functions of Distant Sensing, the universities had developed worldwide collaborations in advancing evaluation of distant sensing knowledge and creating open-source software program for purposes and training.

“Folks had been actually inquisitive about clear air and clear water, so I made a decision there would all the time be curiosity within the atmosphere.”

“Once I instructed my household that Purdue had recruited me, my father requested whether or not the varsity understood that I didn’t know a lot about agriculture,” she says, laughing. “Purdue was inquisitive about my work in distant sensing and knowledge analytics. These applied sciences present functionality to accumulate knowledge often over prolonged spatial areas—which is important for agriculture.”

Her work is presently contributing to creating improved methods for purposes of vitamins and herbicides to crops. By way of her contributions to plant breeding, she helps enhance the safety and resilience of meals manufacturing internationally.

Crawford just lately helped lead a undertaking funded by the U.S. Division of Vitality to develop unmanned aerial automobile platforms and algorithms to help plant breeders in creating sorghum hybrids for biofuels—potential substitutes for corn-based ethanol.

Past academia, Crawford suggested NASA as a member of the Earth Science Advisory Committee and the advisory board for the NASA Socioeconomic Knowledge and Functions Heart.

She was a Jefferson Science Fellow on the U.S. State Division, the place she centered on selling geospatial applied sciences in creating international locations.

In 2001 she realized her purpose of engaged on a satellite tv for pc mission. She was a member of NASA’s Earth Observing–1 science validation workforce, which carried out the primary profitable U.S. civilian hyperspectral mission in house. Though it was designed for a lifetime of 18 months, the mission operated efficiently for 16 years. Her analysis centered on creating new strategies to research hyperspectral imagery to find out the response of vegetation to pure and man-made hazards.

The legacy of Mildred Dresselhaus

Crawford acquired the Dresselhaus Medal on 5 Might in the course of the IEEE Imaginative and prescient, Innovation, and Challenges Summit and Honors Ceremony, held on the Hilton Atlanta.

Mildred Dresselhaus labored at MIT, which she joined in 1960 as a researcher in its Lincoln Laboratory Stable State Division, in Lexington, Mass. She grew to become a professor {of electrical} engineering in 1967 and joined the physics division in 1983.

In 2015 Dresselhaus grew to become the primary feminine recipient of the IEEE Medal of Honor. She died in 2017.

Crawford by no means met Dresselhaus, however she did obtain congratulatory messages from a number of individuals who knew her.

“Essentially the most superb factor to me has been the emails I acquired from so many individuals who knew her however didn’t know me,” Crawford says. “They had been former college students, colleagues, and buddies. They bolstered the notion that Dresselhaus was a very superb particular person in addition to a trailblazer.”

One was an MIT electrical engineering pupil to whom she had given one in all her previous spectrometers to begin his analysis. One other, who on the time was a junior college member on the College of North Carolina in Charlotte, recalled the considerate, important enter and encouragement Dresselhaus offered about her analysis throughout a go to to the college member’s lab.

“One in every of my colleagues at Purdue, who’s a well known researcher in nanotechnology, was emphatic in his appraisal,” she says. “He requested, ‘Do you notice she was the Queen of Carbon?’ It simply made me really feel so humble and appreciative.”

You may watch Crawford settle for her award on IEEE.television.

She was additionally an Innovators Showcase panelist in the course of the summit.

Crawford stresses that her analysis is interdisciplinary: “My contribution is de facto in creating algorithms to research knowledge, however the goal is all the time to handle an issue.

“To contribute to the answer, it’s essential to put money into studying about the issue and to work collaboratively with others who’re specialists in that subject.

“Something that I’ve completed throughout my profession is de facto the results of a workforce. I accepted the award on behalf of all of us.”

IEEE: Staying related to a neighborhood

Crawford joined IEEE when she started her tutorial profession and needed to publish her analysis. Greater than 50 of her papers are within the IEEE Xplore Digital Library.

“Publishing, for many individuals, is the entry into IEEE,” she says. “Then there’s progress when it comes to understanding the significance of going to conferences and never solely listening to shows of analysis but additionally partaking with individuals. You begin being attentive to what’s happening in an expert society, and also you begin volunteering. Then you’re a part of a neighborhood.”

Crawford served as 2013 president of the IEEE Geoscience and Distant Sensing Society and was an affiliate editor of the IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Distant Sensing. She additionally has served on a number of of the society’s administrative committees. Her work was acknowledged with the GRSS 2020 Excellent Service Award and its 2021David Landgrebe Award.

Volunteering, she says, is “a two-way road since you contribute to the society however you additionally profit when it comes to your engagement with people and creating management expertise.”

Being concerned offers alternatives, she provides: “People who find themselves fairly completed of their subject attend the conferences, and so they’re engaged with the society. You’ll by no means, as a junior particular person, usually have alternatives to fulfill these individuals.”

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