The UT Institute of Agriculture is headquartered in Knoxville, but the multiple entities that make up UTIA are spread across the state. It was clear from our tour of the Knoxville campus that UTIA is much more than cows and corn.
We started the tour this afternoon with a visit in Morgan Hall (pictured above) with Tim Cross, dean of UT Extension, the outreach arm of UTIA that links the campus and research with the people of the state. As Cross said, UT Extension is a core part of the university’s land-grant mission. UT is the state’s land-grant institution, a national designation created by the federal government during the Civil War and assigned by each state’s governing body. There is a UT Extension office in each of Tennessee’s 95 counties, and Extension also oversees 10 research centers, 4-H and family and consumer science. “We can really say we are the front porch of the university,” Cross said. Through Extension, UT employees bring critical information to farmers, teach families about cooking healthy food and provide life skills for children. UT Extension also has a partnership with Tennessee State University, which has its own Extension agents sharing office space with UT agents in about 50 counties.
Next we visited the Center for Renewable Carbon and the Bioenergy Science and Technology (BEsT) lab, where UTIA and UT has made a name for itself in the energy industry and particularly in research surrounding biomass. Basically, this research is all about ending our dependence and reliance on oil by finding ways to use biomass, such as switchgrass. Biomass is carbon neutral, meaning it does not affect the climate, and using renewable products becomes an economic advantage for industry. Professor Joe Bozell (pictured at the left), associate professor David Harper and research associate Lindsey Kline talked about their research in BEsT. Kline works in the biomass conversion lab, where she is looking for chemicals and other products that can be extracted from biomass. Bozell showed us the fractionation reactor, which one of only two or three devices in the U.S. that uses a particular method to separate the various components of the biomass, and he is then working to find ways to use the components. Finally, Harper talked about an end product, carbon fibers, which is light but dense and could be used for vehicle parts.
Then we walked over to the Knoxville location of the UT Gardens, which now also includes locations in Jackson and Crossville. Beauty is an asset of the UT Gardens, but they also are a testing ground for flowers and plants. For instance, director Sue Hamilton (pictured at the right) talked to us about the Gardens’ partnership with HGTV HOME. Students were planting annuals and shrubs in a section of the Gardens to test the best ones that HGTV HOME will market as their brand and sell in lawn and garden stores. UT Gardens is home to the Southeast’s largest public rose garden, endowed by the Beall Family. There’s also a rock garden, kitchen garden and many areas for quiet contemplation, picture taking (a family was having its picture taken as we toured) and parties and gatherings (a tent and chairs were being assembled while we were there for a wedding).
Next, we toured the new equine and large animal hospitals with David Anderson, professor and head of large animal clinic sciences (pictured at the left). The new Equine Performance and Rehabilitation Center is the only rehab center for horses in the Southeast that is under the supervision of a veterinarian. UT is the only place in the world that has rehab centers for large, small, exotic and farm animals. Anderson and Camilla, a teaching horse, showed off the salt water therapy device. We visited the hyperbaric chamber for horses. UT is the only place in North America that has hyperbaric chambers for horses, dogs and cats and “pocket pets.” We saw the ICU for large animals, disease isolation containment unit, surgery rooms and MRI and CT for horses.
Finally, we drove to the other side of the river to the Johnson Animal Research and Teaching Unit to visit the Lindsay Young Beneficial Insects Lab and its director, Pat Parkman (pictured below). At the lab, Parkman has thousands of predator beetles that are being reared in mass to help fend off the hemlock woolly adelgid that is killing stands of hemlocks in the Eastern U.S., and most notably in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The adelgid is a non-native insect from Japan. Parkman’s lab is testing the use of different kinds of beetles, which prey on the adelgids. The goal is to not wipe out the adelgids but to create equilibrium of adelgids and beetles so that the damage to the hemlocks can be stopped and managed. It has taken several years since the beetles were first released into the mountains of western North Carolina for some positive results to occur. Near Boone, N.C., the beetles have established themselves, and damage has been halted, Parkman said. A new beetle from southern Japan, which was a natural predator of the adelgid, is being reared in the lab, so far the only place in the world.
The road trip provided an impressive collection of memories and highlights. We will be putting those together for our summer issue of the Alumnus magazine that comes out in July. Stay tuned!