Dr. Lingying Zhao, professor in the Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological engineering at The Ohio State University (OSU), has continually dedicated her time, efforts, and abilities to the poultry industry through striving toward minimizing ammonia and dust emissions from poultry facilities. Zhao has completed, and is currently working on, numerous projects that have paved the way for poultry producers to optimize their operations through technology.
Born and raised in China, Zhao embarked on her professional journey as an undergraduate at China Agriculture University (CAU) studying agricultural structural and environmental engineering. She pursued a master’s degree – a very selective opportunity within the Chinese university setting back in 1980s. “Only a few top professors with prestigious credentials can recruit graduate students,” Zhao stated. “These professors select the top students and are typically limited to recruiting only two master students and two Ph.D. students per year. I was lucky to be selected as a graduate student of Professor YinAn Cui, who was the founder of the agricultural structural and environmental engineering major in China!”
Upon concluding her master’s, Zhao became a faculty at CAU and continued her research. At that time, her research was not directly related to poultry. Zhao started her research on CAD – a term referring to Computer-Aided Design, which is a software that can assist in facility design. “I was a pioneer in developing and using CAD for design of agricultural facilities,” Zhao remarked. “A CAD class was developed to teach students how to use it.” In addition to CAD, Zhao also conducted research on evaporative pad for cooling of animal facilities. “Back in 1990s, the poultry industry in China was already integrated into large-scale operations and experienced significant heat stress problems in summertime. The evaporative cooling pads were widely adopted by the poultry facilities in China.”
After meeting University of Illinois Professor Les Christensen who visited the National Bio-environmental Engineering Lab of the Ministry of Agriculture of China at CAU, Zhao was suggested to continue her education and research in the United States. It was Dr. Zhao’s dream to study advances in bioenvironmental engineering control in the US. Therefore, with a great pleasure and intimidation, Zhao moved to the U.S. to become a Ph.D. student at Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering of University of Illinois at Champaign Urbana. Completing her degree in 2000, Zhao procured a faculty position at OSU working on animal facility and environmental control. Different from her position in China, Zhao’s appointment was 80% extension and 20% research. This newly acquired extension role proved to be a hurdle for Zhao. “Being an extension educator, my audience became farmers and agency people; language barrier and cultural differences presented challenges,” said Zhao. “The question became how do you assess the extension audiences’ needs, establish a good relationship and build rapport with them, especially with cultural and language barriers?” Her secret to overcome this? Collaboration. “Fortunately, I had two good extension associates who provided significant help in communicating with the animal industries and implementing extension programs.” Although it was hard at the beginning, Zhao expressed that genuine interests and efforts were a driving force. “When the farmers felt I was sincerely working with them to resolve problems, I think that is when I overcame my barriers.”
Due to working on many federal research grants, Zhao’s appointment has been shifted to 65% research and 35% extension. “Since Ohio is such a strong poultry state [third largest egg-producing state in the nation], I gradually became more and more involved with poultry research,” Zhao said reflecting upon her focus on poultry-related research. “I have found relatively high levels of ammonia and dust in poultry facilities of particular interest.” Zhao said that the 2015 AI outbreak reinforced this interest in mitigation of ammonia and dust. “I feel it is very crucial to have effective ventilation systems in large-scale poultry operation with high stocking density,” she said.
When asked about role models and those most influential to her, Zhao attributed this honor to various individuals. “My official and non-official mentors as well as my peers, all my collaborators and co-PIs, have helped me in different ways in forming my programs.” Mentors were especially stressed by Zhao, and one of her key pieces of advice to young researchers. “I have always had at least three mentors at any stage of my professional life. It’s very important to regularly communicate with your mentors. Officially or unofficially, it is vital to professional development to identify good mentors.” Along with identifying mentors, Zhao advises young researchers to find their true interests. “Once you are interested, you have this driving force to motivate yourself and do things well – and you’re also happy with it. You can be much more effective.” She also commented that the connection with mentors and peers can help young professionals to identify their own strengths.
Looking toward the future, Zhao remarked that she still finds herself driven by curiosity. When asked about what she hopes in the next five years, she said, “I hope to see more effective mitigation and ventilation, as well as disease control through technology. I also hope to continue effective teaching and training using online eLearning technologies.” Based on her experiences in working with students in China and the United States, Zhao is a firm believer in the long-lasting impacts of helping the professional growth of students. “My graduate students are all excellent researchers, and through educating students your impact is enlarged and will last for a long time.” Zhao and her students are currently working on finding methods to create more effective environmental control systems.
Dr. Zhao has continued to stay at the forefront of integrated research. She is currently developing an electrostatic precipitation system (ESP) and an electrostatic spray system (ESS) for dust control at layer houses. She is also working on incorporating an electrostatic precipitation charger into a web scrubber system, a tool for ammonia control she designed and patented last year. The overarching goal of this work is to be able capture both dust and ammonia emissions from poultry facilities. The ESP and ESS Prototypes are expected to be tested in 2018.
The Egg Industry Center commends Dr. Zhao for her integration of research and science-based extension, with her passion for resolving challenges and obstacles within the poultry industry. We look forward to highlighting her upcoming projects and discoveries for the industry.
By Myla Meyer