Our lab is dedicated to helping college students learn about sunflower research and provide them relevant experience for their future careers. Each year we work with incoming interns to create projects for them to lead. The goal of the project is to help give interns relevant experience they can show prospective employers after they graduate. This year we have had another great group of interns and we had each one write a paragraph about their project. See below to find out what they accomplished last summer.
My summer project consisted of replacing a chain driven system that powers a combine header reel. The reel rotates and aligns the incoming sunflower plants into the header. The chain driven system required too much constant maintenance to properly work. Being in a naturally dusty environment, the chains required constant lubrication otherwise the links would not work properly. Additionally the sunflower heads could manage to pop the chain off the gears by getting the stalks caught in between the chain and header.
I designed and installed a system that instead uses an electric motor and a single v-belt to rotate the reel. The v-belt requires nearly no maintenance, other than being tensioned appropriately, which can be done by simply pulling the motor mount away from the reel and does not need a separate belt tensioner. The motor system uses a motor controller which can further control the speed of the motor as well as reverse direction of the reel if needed.
I really enjoyed this assignment because it allowed me to work through every aspect of an actual engineering project; assessment of the issue, researching and creating a design, finding all the project materials while keeping project cost in check, and finally implementing the final product.
I learned a lot while working on my project this summer, from project management, to improving my problem solving skills, minor electrical skills, and my 3D CAD skills in SolidWorks.
This summer I worked with one of the postdocs on a project focused on getting silphium seeds to germinate. There were a myriad of combinations of pretreatments and treatments that we tested to see which would allow for the highest germination rate of the silphium seeds. This project was pretty simple to execute, and I feel that our results were appreciated. We found a possible new way to germinate sunflower seeds that is easier than the current method.
As part of my internship, I was tasked with analyzing and recommending new sunflower variety releases. USDA-ARS sunflower variety releases are critical to the sunflower industry due to the limited scope of sunflower genetic research in the private sector. I utilized data sets to select appropriate inbred lines for 2017 public release. We looked at multiple agronomic traits such as disease, pest control. yield, and oil content. The traits we observe affect sunflower by increasing crop yields and improving oil quantity.