Plants are important: they play a dominant role in our planet’s fluxes of mass (water, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen) and energy and thus in our climate’s dynamics. They feed themselves autonomously by pulling critical reagents out of the environment, and, in turn, they feed the world, directly or indirectly. If we could communicate more effectively with plants, there are many things we would ask them: how they encode structure and function in their genome; the systems biology of their development and responses to environmental cues and stresses; optimal ways to design and manage them for the sustainable and profitable production of nutritious foods and other products. Under the Cornell Initiative for Digital Agriculture (CIDA), investigators are working across biology, engineering, computing, and the social sciences to open new paths of communication with plants, to build scientific and data-driven tools to interpret and use new information gathered via this communication, and to define effective social, economic and regulatory practices for the future of digital agriculture.

In this talk, I will provide examples of activities and opportunities within CIDA, with a focus on efforts to bridge the plant-digital divide with tools from microelectronics, nanotechnology, synthetic biology, and computing. I will develop two examples from my lab in more depth. These examples relate to the dynamics of water in plants. I will use them to illustrate: i) bio-mimetic strategies to translate one part of the language of plants into digital data, ii) specific considerations for the collection, analysis, and use of data in agricultural field contexts, and iii) two application contexts – feedback control and quantitative genetics – in which computing and data analytics play important roles. I will finish by describing (and asking for input on) an emerging vision within CIDA for an Internet-of-Living-Things (IoLT) in which a diversity of transducers allows seamless input-output between deep biological processes and virtual representations (“digital twins”) that run on the cloud.

Abe Stroock is the Gordon L. Dibble '50 Professor and William C. Hooey Director of the Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Cornell University. He is also an associate director of the Cornell Initiative for Digital Agriculture. His research relates to engineering microchemical processes with an emphasis on transport phenomena, thermodynamics, and physiology. Current topics in his lab involve the development of tools with which to manipulate metastable states of liquid water for the pursuit of fundamental questions in physical chemistry, plant physiology, and environmental transport and with applications in heat transfer and environmental sensing. He obtained his BA in Physics from Cornell in 1995 and his PhD in Chemical Physics in 2002 from Harvard University. He received an MIT Technology Review TR35 Award and an NSF CAREER Award.