Corn Stalk Lodging: Engineering Perspective on an Agronomic Problem

One of the defining experiences of my time as an undergraduate was the research I worked on at the NYU Abu Dhabi Crop Biomechanics Lab. I spent over two years as a research assistant working on combating the problem of stalk lodging in important field crops such as maize.

Lodging refers to the wind-induced breakage of plant stems, and it leads to the loss of an estimated 5% of the annual US maize crop. Agronomists and plant scientists have traditionally approached the stalk lodging problem from a biological perspective in trying to develop more lodging-resistant crop varieties. This work has contributed to the significant gains in crop yields over the past few decades, but a more detailed understanding of the mechanics of stalk lodging is required to support continued improvements in the face of increasing demand for sources of food and bio-fuels.

This project is an ongoing international collaboration between plant biologists and mechanical engineers. During my time with the group, we generated new insights into the determinants of maize stalk lodging propensity and described two novel metrics to predict stalk strength. Based on these research insights, my colleagues and I have invented a portable maize stalk strength measurement device. Read more about the device here.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles

Preventing lodging in bioenergy crops: a biomechanical analysis of maize stalks suggests a new approach

This is a computational study featuring FEA models built from material and geometry data obtained from micro-CT scanning maize stalk specimens. Using a sensitivity analysis, we identified potential geometric and material factors affecting lodging propensity.

My role on this paper was to develop custom MATLAB code to construct geometric models of stalk specimens using CT scan data.

Maize Stalk Lodging: Flexural Stiffness Predicts Strength

In this laboratory-based experimental study, we identify stalk flexural stiffness as a new mechanical predictor for corn stalk strength that significantly outperforms existing metrics used in the industry. These findings underpin the portable non-destructive stalk strength measurement device we invented.

I conducted the mechanical tests and contributed to the engineering analysis as well as data analysis on this paper.

Maize Stalk Lodging: Morphological Determinants of Stalk Strength

Combining geometric data from CT scans with mechanical test results, we identified new geometric predictors of stalk strength that are easy to measure. These metrics can potentially be used as selective breeding indices to develop stronger crop varieties.

We also demonstrate the utility of engineering analysis as an interpretive tool for crop data that could lead to insights that would likely have been missed by generic statistical analysis approaches.

For this paper, I collected the mechanical test data and contributed to the engineering analysis.