College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Materials science and engineering assistant professor awarded prestigious award

Ludovico Cademartiri is selected for the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation 2014 Young Investigator Award

Developing tools for studying how plants interact with each other and their environments is a big task, but materials science and engineering assistant professor Ludovico Cademartiri has a solution.

Cademartiri has been passionate about plants since a young age.
Ludovico Cademartiri has been passionate about plants since a young age.

Cademartiri was recently selected for the highly prestigious 2014 Beckman Young Investigator Award, a $750,000 award given yearly to just seven young scientists in the United States whose visionary research proposals have the potential of changing the chemical and life sciences. This is the third time in 25 years that Iowa State has been awarded, and the first time for the College of Engineering.

Cademartiri explained, “97 percent of our food supply originates from plants grown in soil. It is very reasonable to think that having a better understanding of how plants interact with soil and with each other could be one important thing to know to improve our food security.”

His proposal aims to develop tools that will uncover whether plants exchange information with each other through their root systems. Chemical signaling is well known in organisms as simple as bacteria, but comparably little is known on how plants interact with each other below ground. Such communication could, for example, make communities of plants more resilient to stress than individual plants.

Cademartiri believes knowing how plants interact with each other “could lead us to more intelligent agricultural practices in which beneficial interactions between plants can be exploited and negative interactions avoided.”

The tools that Cademartiri’s lab is developing will allow researchers to create engineered communities of plants and systematically study their interactions. The task is not easy because these tools should be simple, cheap, and highly scalable to different plant sizes. “The simpler the tool, the more likely people are to use it.”

Interdisciplinary research with engineers and scientists is one of Cademartiri’s goals. “I believe there is much that engineers, chemists, physicists, and mathematicians can contribute to solving this problem, and we need as many hands on deck as possible. We do not have an infinite time to secure our food supply.”

Cademartiri is honored to receive the 2014 Beckman Young Investigator grant. “It is an incredible opportunity, and I’m honored that the distinguished committee felt that the idea deserved it.” However, he is quick to recognize the impact of the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation on the scientific community through Arnold Beckman’s ingenious scientific contributions, as well as the foundation’s generous donations to science and technology.

The Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation 2014 Young Investigator grant was made through the Iowa State University Foundation, a private, nonprofit corporation dedicated to securing and managing gifts and grants that benefit Iowa State University.