This summer, Cullen White ’11 is helping to shape the agricultural future of New York.
Working in the horticulture department at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station (NYSAES) in Geneva, a division of Cornell University, White is researching the “Willow Project,” which focuses on the genetics and physiology of the willow shrub. The goal is the deployment of elite varieties of willows as an important bio-energy crop in New York State.
“I love the idea of alternative bio-energy and finding new ways to fuel our growing world in healthy and innovative ways,” says White, a biology major and a public policy minor.
His research is supported through the Brenda and David Rickey Foundation, which recently approved a three year, $45,000 grant to support students in the Summer Science Research Program who are undertaking research projects at the NYSAES. The foundation’s support marks the first time the summer program has received funds specifically earmarked for projects performed at the NYSAES.
Working with NYSAES researchers Kimberly Cameron and Larry Smart, White is studying the breeding of the different varieties of willow shrub, which are later sent on for cellulose testing by other groups; he has been constructing planting beds in the Geneva and Syracuse region.
“I have spent many a day out in the hot sun with Dr. Smart and our crew, planting more than 1,500 willow cuttings with up to 260 varieties of willow,” says White. “I’ve gained respect for the professors at the station who plot and plant their own fields.”
Currently, they are planting a large trial of willow varieties, on which they will test a new herbicide treatment to determine if it can be sprayed to kill weeds without harming the willow.
White is also surveying Geneva fields for pest damage and cataloging the different species of insects he finds, collaborating with field entomologist Dr. Gregory Loeb, who also works at the station.
“I take pictures of the different insects and categorize them with Dr. Loeb,” says White. “Then we can use this information to determine which species of willow are most susceptible to certain insects. Also, keeping pest surveys helps to decide when the time is right to apply pesticides.”
White found deadlines to be the biggest difference between working at NYSAES and studying in the classroom. “The plants need to be in the ground. Any delays could mean a loss of either money or time in the laboratory. While there is still room for some error, there is definitely a sense of business about the whole project, and I like that.”
On campus, he is a member of the Statesmen golf team, club hockey and lacrosse, as well as a member of health professions club and an intern at the radiology center at Geneva General Hospital. White plans to attend medical school, and has special interest in orthopedics.