College of ACES
College News

These legs were made for walkin'

Published October 2, 2014

URBANA, Ill. - A globally recognized observance, October 8 is International Walk to School Day, said a University of Illinois Extension nutrition and wellness educator.

“Ensuring that their children are happy and healthy is at the forefront of all parents’ minds. Staying physically active and able is a large part of that. For parents, becoming involved in their child’s activity can ramp up your activity level as well. You’ll kill two birds with one stone. As you encourage your children’s health, you’ll be getting some low-impact, high-result cardio exercise. It’s a win-win situation if I’ve ever heard one!” said Mekenzie Riley. 

Regular exercise is a major factor in reducing or preventing obesity and obesity-related chronic illness, such as diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers, she said.

“The USDA suggests that adults get at least 2-1/2 hours each week of moderate aerobic physical activity or 1-1/4 hours each week of vigorous aerobic physical activity. Unfortunately, less than half of the American adult population currently gets this recommended amount of physical activity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” she noted. 

The good news is that by simply adding daily walks to your routine­—like walking to the bus stop or to school with your child, you can begin to achieve these recommended activity levels, she said.

“Walking is a great form of exercise for many reasons,” she added. “One of the many advantages about walking for fitness is that you can go at your own pace. It’s a simple way to begin a physical activity program. Whether you are a beginner who is casually strolling, or at an intermediate fitness level, looking to increase the intensity of your exercise with hand weights and inclines, or beginning to run at vigorous pace, walking is a customizable activity.”

According to Riley, walking burns calories and improves heart health by improving blood flow, lowering blood pressure, and increasing muscle strength. In addition, walking burns calories, increases bone strength, and reduces stress, which has a positive impact on weight and body composition.

“The most important health benefit of walking is that it increases life expectancy so the more you walk, the longer you’ll live!” Riley said.

The best news is that the government is supporting these small ways to get more exercise in daily activity, such as walking to school. In August 2005, federal legislation established a National Safe Routes to School Program that provided $612 million toward developing new, safe ways for children to get to and from school by foot or bike, she said.

“For the health of you and your child, walk to school on October 8 and let that be the first day of a new tradition. What you start doing today might improve your life tomorrow,” she said.

Funding for mobile digital labs brings technology to the public

Published October 2, 2014
DigiTech Hub
Photo courtesy of the C-U Community Fab Lab

URBANA, Ill. – DigiTech hubs, sometimes called “makerspaces,” will soon be available in Illinois due to special initiative funding from University of Illinois Extension. The mobile laboratories, which will rotate among U of I Extension sites throughout the state, will serve as high-tech inventor workshops equipped with tools for participants to learn about digital technology—from audio production to 3D printing. 

“Members of the community will be able to make podcasts, experiment with soldering, create small robots, and learn how to do 3D design using the latest digital tools,” said Jon Gant, director of the Center for Digital Inclusion, professor at the U of I’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science and principal investigator of the project. “Enabling this kind of innovation and creativity is key to twenty-first century technological and economic development.”

The hubs are just one component of a larger Illinois Digital Innovation Leadership Program that is designed to increase opportunities for entrepreneurship, economic development, and innovation through the expansion of digital manufacturing, digital media production, and data analytics.

Digital Innovation Leadership staff will work with 4-H clubs, public libraries, and public schools to develop permanent community-based and -supported studios, creating a network that will build statewide capacity in digital design, manufacturing, and entrepreneurship.

This is one of six collaborative projects led by interdisciplinary faculty and staff from across the U of I campus to further Extension’s education and outreach mission. It is a special partnership between Extension, the dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences, and the Office of the Provost. The six projects were selected from a pool of 71 pre-proposals from 16 different campus units. The Extension and Outreach Initiative is aimed at establishing new collaborations between Extension and departments and units across campus.

For more information, visit or






News Writer:

University of Illinois Extension

Meeting Food Processing Challenges through the Physics of Food

Published October 2, 2014

When considering a slice of pizza, most would see cheese, sauce, crust, maybe a topping or two. What Dr. Pawan Takhar sees is movement of fluids through a porous matrix, a structure undergoing constant change and requiring consideration of concepts such as mass exchange, viscoelastic properties, fluid transport and other physico-chemical processes. In sum, what Dr. Takhar sees in food is physics. And seeing food through the lens of physics has allowed Dr. Takhar to address significant challenges in food processing, with significant results for food quality and industrial efficiency.

The uncommon approach taken to addressing food processing challenges reflect Takhar’s own unique background in food science. On the path to obtaining degrees in Agricultural Engineering from India’s Punjab Agricultural University, Post Harvest and Food Processing Engineering from Thailand’s Asian Institute of Technology, and ultimately a Ph.D. in Food Engineering from Purdue University, Takhar also held positions as a software programmer for an information technology consulting firm, and as a design engineer for a refrigeration and food machinery company. Now an Associate Professor in the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, Dr. Takhar brings a unique blend of physics and computational modeling to the analysis of food and food processing methods such as drying and frying.

Takhar’s approach stems from continuum mechanics, a body of physics for studying laws of mechanics and material behavior by treating matter as continuous. Foods are not simple materials where simple statements of physics laws easily apply; foods are continually changing (due to temperature, pressure, etc.), and need examination at micro-, meso-, and macro- scales. However, studying all the changes starting at the smallest micro-scale level and applying it for the whole food material would require an impractical level of computing resources and microscale material properties. To remedy this need, Takhar and his group use (and improve upon) hybrid mixture theory (HMT), which scales up from the micro level to higher scales to generate mathematical laws specifically for food and biomaterials, and which are more general than laws produced for simpler materials. In practice, the researchers combine HMT and macroscale or microstructural experiments (using data from X-ray tomography, scanning electron microscopy, etc.) to investigate a particular science challenge.

Demonstrations of the strength of Takhar’s approach in improving food quality, nutrition, and industrial energy are found across multiple industrial food processing settings. In the soybean oil industry, the amount of oil extracted from soybean flakes results from the equipment used and the physical, thermal, and viscoelastic qualities of the soybeans in the feed stream. Takhar’s group was able to model the factors involved to produce soybean drying profiles and flaking roll performance adjustments that ultimately saved $2 million for one industrial producer. Stress cracks in corn are a problem for the corn processing industry, as cracked grains are a source of inferior quality products, produce more dust, and are more prone to insect and microbial damage. Typically, stress cracks arise from moisture fluctuations and drying times, but experimentally identifying the best combination of moisture and drying time would take a great deal of experimentation. By simulating the moisture/drying process, Takhar’s group was able to generate a graph of intermittent drying times, resulting in 50% less stress cracks in a food material. For industrial frying of rice crackers and potatoes, Takhar has been able to find the frying conditions at which both products are at the most desirable level; any further frying only results in excess oil absorption, which represents waste, poorer food quality, and even a greater risk for obesity in consumers.

Currently, Takhar and his group are applying their approach to biopolymer expansion in the form of starch extrusion, with the goal of finding the optimal moisture and temperature distributions of a variety of starch-using products, ranging from cereals and snacks to lubricants for gloves. Looking to the future, Takhar sees a wealth of research possibilities on applying porous media theories to solve transport problems in foods such as frying, drying, freeze-thaw cycles etc.. In the next step Takhar will also be using molecular-scale simulations with food and bio materials via molecular modeling, molecular visualization tools and supercomputing resources. Please see Dr. Takhar’s website ( for more information. 

News Source:

Pawan Takhar

Gamma Sigma Delta ACES Graduate Fellows Awards Luncheon

12:30 PM - 2:00 PM
Alice Campbell Alumni Center, 601 South Lincoln Avenue, Urbana, Illinois

Join the College of ACES and Gamma Sigma Delta in celebrating scholarly excellence of their recent graduates. Faculty members will be in attendance to honor the graduates who will be recognized at the event.


Visualizing nutrition information to improve understanding and consumer behavior

4:00 PM - 5:00 PM
180 Bevier Hall

Search for better biofuels microbes leads to the human gut

Published October 1, 2014

URBANA, Ill. — Scientists have scoured cow rumens and termite guts for microbes that can efficiently break down plant cell walls for the production of next-generation biofuels, but some of the best microbial candidates actually may reside in the human lower intestine, researchers report.

Their study, reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the first to use biochemical approaches to confirm the hypothesis that microbes in the human gut can digest fiber, breaking it down into simple sugars in order to ferment them into nutrients that nourish human cells. These findings have significance for human health but also for biofuels production, since the same sugars can be fed to yeast to generate ethanol and other liquid fuels. The human microbes appear to be endowed with enzymes that break down a complex plant fiber component more efficiently than the most efficient microbes found in the cow rumen, the researchers report.

Their work in cows led the researchers to the human microbes, said University of Illinois animal sciences and Institute for Genomic Biology professor Isaac Cann, who led the new analysis with his colleagues, animal sciences professor Roderick Mackie and M.D./Ph.D. student Dylan Dodd. Cann also is a microbiology professor and a principal investigator at the Energy Biosciences Institute. Dodd is now at Stanford University.

“In looking for biofuels microbes in the cow rumen, we found that Prevotella bryantii, a bacterium that is known to efficiently break down (the plant fiber) hemicellulose, gears up production of one gene more than others when it is digesting plant matter,” Cann said.

When searching a database for similar genes in other organisms, the researchers found them in microbes from the human gut. The team focused on two of these human microbes, Bacteroides intestinalis and Bacteroides ovatus, which belong to the same bacterial phylum as Prevotella from the cow.

“We expressed the human gut bacterial enzymes and found that for some related enzymes, the human ones actually were more active (in breaking down hemicellulose) than the enzymes from the cow,” Cann said.

When the researchers looked more closely at the structure of the human enzymes, they saw something unusual: many single polypeptide (protein) chains actually contained two enzymes, one of which was embedded in the other. Further analysis of the most important protein revealed that the embedded component was a carbohydrate-binding module (CBM), which, as its name implies, latches onto carbohydrates such as hemicellulose. This enzyme shreds the plant fiber hemicellulose so that other enzymes can work on it to break it down into its unit sugars.

Working with U. of I. biochemistry professor Satish Nair, the researchers also noticed that the CBM “put a kink” in the fiber when it bound to it. This bending action may bring the fiber close to the other enzyme in the protein so it can get to work breaking the bonds between the sugars. Further research is needed to confirm this hypothesis, Cann said.

The study points to human microbes as a potentially potent source of microbes that can aid in biofuels production, Cann said.

“In addition to finding microbes in the cow rumen and termite gut, it looks like we can actually make some contributions ourselves,” he said. “And our bugs seem to have some enzymes that are even better than those in the cow rumen.”

The paper, “Xylan utilization in human gut commensal bacteria is orchestrated by unique modular organization of polysaccharide-degrading enzymes” is available online at or from the U. of I. News Bureau.

The Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture funded this research. The EBI is a public-private collaboration funded with $500 million for 10 years from the energy company BP and includes researchers from Illinois, the University of California at Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

News Source:

Isaac Cann, 217-333-2090

News Writer:

Diana Yates, 217-333-5802


9:00 AM - 5:00 PM
I-Hotel and Conference Center, Champaign, IL

On Tuesday, November 19, join in the worldwide celebration of GIS Day locally at the iHotel. Connect with GIS users and enjoy a keynote presentation by Harriet Festing, Water Program Director of the Center for Neighborhood Technology, lightening talks, and complimentary lunch. The Illinois GIS Day is open to all faculty, staff & students. Registration is free, but space is limited. Proposals for Lightning Talks are now being accepted.

To participate, submit your proposal by October 10.

More information is at

Olson’s longstanding international collaboration yields valuable data on greenhouse gasses in relation to land-use changes

Published September 29, 2014
Drs. V. Golosov, Dr. K.R. Olson, and Dr. A. Gennadiyev in a grassland area near Tula, Russia

“It’s definitely been an adventure,” recalled Dr. Kenneth Olson of his 24-year collaboration with Dr. Alexander Gennadiyev, faculty at Moscow State University in Russia, to determine the potential effects of land use changes on soil organic carbon and greenhouse gas emissions.

In perhaps the College of ACES’ longest continuous international faculty collaboration, Olson, a professor of soil science in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, recently hosted Gennadiyev to exchange laboratory data. This particular visit ran smoothly, but that has not always been the case for Olson; while sampling and traveling with soils from prairie, forested, and agricultural sites in each of seven locations across Illinois, Iowa, South Dakota, and Russia (Tula and Belgorod), he has encountered several challenges. 

Read about Olson’s latest travel adventure, involving suitcases of soil, political tensions, and military exercises, here:

Despite the challenges associated with collecting and traveling intercontinentally with soil samples (over 1300 samples through the years), the results from Olson and Gennadiyev’s work have provided insight into how to retain as much carbon in soil organic matter for as long as possible.

“Our work ties to climate change. If you assume, the mesic-frigid line (upper boundary of corn production) may move north in the U.S. and in Russia, where forest and natural areas would have a climate suitable for agricultural use; these areas combined include a very large amount of prairie and forest soil that is currently holding in carbon and nitrogen. If these areas are repurposed into farmland, the suggestion is that greenhouse gas emissions would be accelerated,” Olson explained.

Gennadiyev’s visit coincided with the Master’s thesis defense for Olson’s graduate student, Ron Salemme, whose results showed that changing prairie soil into farmland causes an even greater loss of carbon than previous studies had shown. 

“Ron’s results show a 50-60% loss of carbon by changing from prairie soil to farmland. This particular field [at Dinesen Prairie in Harlan, Iowa] is on a 12% slope so the erosion rate is extremely high,” Olson said.

Olson’s previous results have shown that 18-48% of carbon could be lost from the soil by land use changes in both the U.S. and Russia.

“The forest is much better at sequestering carbon than the agricultural land. If you want to tie up carbon for a long time, trees, roots, and making furniture are good ways to do it. When you clear, cultivate, or burn forest, you lose carbon. If you want to sequester soil organic carbon, plant grasses; but if you want to sequester carbon overall, plant trees,” Olson said. 

If the forest or prairie land is converted to agricultural use, methods such as crop rotations and soil conservation can be implemented to retain as much carbon for as long as possible, said Olson.

“For example, one could restrict land use change or select agricultural systems which retain more soil organic carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.

The 24-year cooperative research program has been funded by the U.S. State Department, U.S. Forest Service, NATO, and the Russian Research Foundation. Gennadiyev’s recent visit, as well as Dr. Olson’s trip to Moscow in April, were funded as part of a U.S. State Department travel grant. 

The project has supported five Russian graduate students in addition to Salemme. 

Olson’s most recent travel hiccup adds is the latest of several adventures he enjoys telling about the collaboration.

“One of the sites we sampled in Russia, Tula, has a rain cloud from Chernobyl. Radiation traveled 500 miles and came down at a higher rate with the rainstorm. We used that radiation in a test. At another soil sampling site, we found trenches and artillery shells; it was the site of the largest tank battle between Russia and Germany in WWII. We had to move the soil sampling site. Every time we went in the woods, we didn’t know what we would find but it was always an adventure.”

Olson and Gennadiyev met in 1979 at Cornell when the former was a research associate and the latter was a visiting professor. Gennadiyev was one of the first scientists to come to the U.S. from Russia.

Following his recent visit to the University of Illinois, Gennadiyev gave a lecture on the project at George Mason University in Virginia.

“I like to say we are members of the 20/20 club, as collaborators of over 20 years with over 20 refereed journal papers,” said Olson.

News Source:

Kenneth Olson

News Writer:

Leslie Myrick, 217-244-5373