College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

ME researcher named Plant Science Institute Faculty Scholar

Mechanical engineering assistant professor Soumik Sarkar

Funding from Iowa State’s Plant Science Institute will allow a mechanical engineering researcher to study ways to assist farmers in Iowa and across the globe in growing food.

Soumik Sarkar, an assistant professor in mechanical engineering, will receive $75,000 in funding per year over the next three years for his research project. This project combines computing and other digital tools with traditional farming techniques.

“This grant will be an excellent support to explore my high-risk, high-gain ideas at the juncture of machine learning, artificial intelligence and plant science or agriculture,” said Sarkar. “Specifically, I would like to develop advanced spatiotemporal data analytics and information fusion techniques to solve problems in plant pathology, plant breeding and enable smart farming practices.”

Sarkar’s research leverages the Predictive Plant Phenomics (P3) Program, which combines plant sciences with computational sciences and engineering to examine ways that sensors and data analysis techniques can be used to improve crop productivity. The P3 Program is part of the National Science Foundation’s Research Traineeship program.

“My research focus is on data analytics, machine learning and applying such concepts to cyber-physical systems,” said Sarkar. “Today, precise and cost-effective sensors as well as high performance computing technologies are looking to transform traditional agriculture into an efficient cyber-physical system. In this context, engineers and computer scientists have a major role to play and I see myself as one such enabler who can contribute to this critical societal need – growing sufficient food for the world.”

This year’s Plant Science Institute Faculty Scholars cohort consists of researchers from agronomy; genetics, development and cell biology; industrial and manufacturing systems engineering; mechanical engineering; plant pathology and microbiology; and statistics.

“The PSI scholar award is a great honor for me and I am excited to join an amazing group of scientists, get opportunity to work with them, and learn from them,” Sarkar said.