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WashU computer scientists part of $8M big data research grant

Two computer scientists from Washington University are on a research team that will use big data to accelerate breeding and the commercial release of sorghum crops that can be used as a renewable energy source.

Researchers from 10 institutions will use an $8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to study sorghum as a renewable energy source.

Robert Pless, professor of computer science, and Roman Garnett, assistant professor of computer science, will join a team of 10 university, government and industry collaborators working on the four-year, $8 million project, headed by the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy's ARPA-E TERRA program.

With about $900,000 of the total funding, Pless will develop 3-D models of the crops, including their shapes, volumes and properties, such as leaf curvature, that may indicate drought stress in field conditions, and Garnett will develop algorithms that make the most effective use of statistical estimates of the final biomass of the crops from sensor data as early in the growing season as possible to speed the breeding process.

In addition to Washington University, other partner institutions include Clemson University, the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, Kansas State University, Texas A&M University, the University of Arizona, the University of Illinois, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications and the U.S. Arid Land Agricultural Research Center of the USDA-Agricultural Research Service.

For the complete press release, visit the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center website.


The School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis focuses intellectual efforts through a new convergence paradigm and builds on strengths, particularly as applied to medicine and health, energy and environment, entrepreneurship and security. With 91 tenured/tenure-track and 40 additional full-time faculty, 1,300 undergraduate students, more than 900 graduate students and more than 23,000 alumni, we are working to leverage our partnerships with academic and industry partners — across disciplines and across the world — to contribute to solving the greatest global challenges of the 21st century.

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