Water for Food

Student researcher awarded FAO-IAEA internship to advance nuclear science for agriculture

June 27, 2016

William Avery on the cosmic ray rover.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate student William Avery will soon be on his way to Austria to begin what will mark an exciting new chapter in his life, both personally and professionally. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have awarded Avery a one-year internship in Vienna for a joint research project.

Avery will be helping the IAEA develop its use of cosmic ray technology to advance the use of nuclear science to study agriculture. Instead of channeling Julia Andrews and singing “Do-Re-Me” through the Austrian mountains, Avery will be installing cosmic ray probes in farmland. The probes provide accurate, real-time soil moisture estimates by measuring subatomic neutron particles in the air above the soil surface. This information has the potential to help farmers use water more efficiently.

With funding from WFI’s student support program, Avery has been working with the cosmic ray probe technology for nearly three years with his adviser Trenton Franz, Water for Food Global Institute Faculty Fellow and UNL hydrogeophysicist.

“FAO has the mandate to feed the world and the IAEA has the mandate to develop peaceful uses of nuclear energy, which makes this internship a perfect fit for the work I’ve been doing with Dr. Franz,” said Avery.

Avery will be conducting cosmic ray data collection, analysis and processing, as well as helping with soil moisture probe maintenance and writing protocols that can be made available to other member countries interested in using the technology.

“It will be exciting to work with scientists from around the world and to develop new skills – to grow as a person,” he said.

Ammar Wahbi, technical officer for the FAO-IAEA’s Soil and Water Management and Crop Nutrition Section, will supervise Avery’s work. Wahbi and Avery met at the 2016 Water for Food Global Conference in April where Wahbi was a featured speaker.

“I would not be capable of this internship had I not had the training with Dr. Franz and the support of the Water for Food Global Institute.”

Avery will graduate in August with a master’s degree in natural resource sciences from the UNL School of Natural Resources. The one-year internship begins July 18.

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