Professor Shekhar Brings Big Data to the Global Food Supply

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October 5, 2016

McKnight Distinguished University Professor Shashi Shekhar was recently co-awarded a grant under the University’s Driving Tomorrow Research Initiatives that aims to address critical challenges facing Minnesota and the world. For example, in coming decades, the world population is projected to grow significantly, substantially increasing the demand for food and other resources. Furthermore, the challenge is amplified due to climate change, urbanization and the need to sustain ecosystem services and conserving biodiversity.

As part of an interdisciplinary team that includes Derric Pennington (Institute on the Environment), Anu Ramaswami (Technology & Environmental Policy), and Timothy M. Smith (Bioproducts & Biosystems Engineering), Professor Shekhar will address “Feeding the World Sustainably,” one of the five interrelated Grand Challenges identified through a campus-wide process that looked into areas where the University is positioned to have a particularly major impact.

The team’s project, titled “Big-data transparency in global food supply,” aims to provide more accurate assessment of geographic variability of risk and performance across sourcing regions of the global food chain. It investigates spatial big data, novel spatial data mining concepts, and environmental life-cycle assessment methods to characterize and predict sustainability benefits and burdens across supply chains spanning highly heterogeneous local landscapes and management practices. If successful, the results may reduce the environmental impact of food production and improve prediction and management of disruptions of food supply chains in vulnerable countries and regions.

In addition to the important research being carried out by Professor Shekhar and his team, there are 28 other grants funding research collaborations addressing the Grand Challenges that focus on a wide range of areas—from high-tech strategies to mitigate water pollution to understanding the human stories behind the global immigration crisis.

The collaborations were selected by the provost from nearly 100 proposals submitted to the provost’s Grand Challenge Research Call for Ideas by cross-disciplinary faculty teams spanning every UMN college and school, as well as Extension, the Institute on the Environment, the Minnesota Supercomputing Institute, and Athletics.

For more information on all the Grand Challenges the cross-disciplinary teams plan to address, visit the Driving Tomorrow website.

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