CEA Researcher Profiles

Indoor agriculture systems

Heiner Lieth
Professor and Extension Specialist, Plant Sciences

Heiner Lieth has built a plant factory CEA facility and a solar array nursery shade facility for teaching and research at UC Davis. With several decades of working in this field, he has introduced hydroponics for previously ‘impossible’ crops ranging from flowers to tropical trees.

Md Shamim Ahamed
Assistant Professor, Biological and Agricultural Engineering

Md Shamim Ahamed’s lab focuses on energy-efficient design and operation of CEA production facilities, including greenhouse, indoor vertical farming, aquaponics, dairy and poultry barns. He conducts research on thermal environment modelling and simulation; design optimization and evaluation of energy-saving techniques for the agricultural built-environment; NetZero energy (NZE) agricultural buildings; digitalization of CEA production systems; and automated HVAC systems to promote sustainability through CEA production systems designed to minimize energy use.

Jackson Gross
Cooperative Extension Specialist, Aquaponics, Animal Science

Jackson Gross is an aquaponics expert whose research focuses on recirculating aquaculture and aquaponics systems for finfish and vegetable production. He also studies reproductive and developmental biology to improve fish and bivalve culture, humane harvest of fish, habitat utilization, and water quality.

David Slaughter
Professor, Biological and Agricultural Engineering

David Slaughter leads the UC Davis Smart Farm Big Idea and is developing a new undergraduate major in Agricultural and Environmental Technology to prepare students for industry positions, including in indoor agriculture.

His research focuses on agricultural robotics and automation of specialty crops, including technologies for high-throughput phenotyping and non-destructive sensor development for measuring the internal properties and quality of specialty crops. Dr. Slaughter has extensive experience in hyperspectral imaging, as well as optics and other areas of computer vision and postharvest technologies such as packaging and damage-free transport of ripe produce.

 Johanna Del Castillo Múnera 
Assistant Project Scientist, Department of Plant Pathology

Dr. Del Castillo Múnera has over a decade of experience working with soil-borne pathogens affecting vegetable and ornamental crops grown in greenhouse environments. Her research program is focused in developing and improving sustainable solutions for disease control in greenhouse systems.  Her laboratory offers diagnostic services specific to ornamental crops,  and the team conducts research on best management practices to reduce pathogen risk in greenhouse production.


Crop breeding and production for CEA

Gail Taylor
Professor and Department Chair, Plant Sciences

Gail Taylor’s lab focuses on improvement and sustainable intensification of leafy green crops, particularly watercress and lettuce. She has developed the world’s first genetic mapping population of watercress and uses quantitative genomics to unravel the complexity of traits for nutrient densification, anti-cancer properties, plant architecture for mechanical harvesting, and vertical indoor urban farming. Her lab’s research goal is to develop sustainable solutions for a future low-carbon society using green plants.

Charlie Brummer
Professor and Director, Center for Plant Breeding, Plant Sciences

Charlie Brummer is an expert in plant breeding, germplasm improvement, cultivar development and applied genomics of spinach, alfalfa, hemp and other crops. His lab is interested in applying genomic and phenotypic tools to accelerate the progress of crop improvements.

As Director of the Center for Plant Breeding, Brummer collaborates with more than 20 campus faculty and researchers with plant breeding programs, several of whom are interested in applying their breeding expertise to developing crops for CEA.

Christine Diepenbrock
Assistant Professor, Plant Sciences

Christine Diepenbrock has active work in maize, sorghum, leafy greens and grain legumes. She also works to improve crop tolerance to abiotic stressors such as drought and high temperatures.

The Diepenbrock lab focuses on improving nutritional quality of staple and specialty crops. The lab’s most common methodologies include statistical genetics and computational genomics, nutritional phenotyping of all throughputs, managed stress experiments and crop modeling.

Steve Knapp
Director, Strawberry Breeding Program
Professor, Plant Sciences

Steve Knapp manages a diverse collection of strawberry cultivars available for testing in the open field, as well as soilless and protected culture and vertical farming systems. He has developed photoperiod sensitive and insensitive strawberry cultivars with exceptional flavor, texture and appearance.

The Knapp Lab has expertise in genome-informed predictive breeding and is engaged in breeding and genetic studies of aroma, antioxidant, and other fruit quality and shelf-life traits in strawberries. He is also exploring genetic diversity to identify plant architecture variants that would facilitate machine harvesting.

Richard Michelmore
Distinguished Professor and Director, UC Davis Genome Center, Plant Sciences

Richard Michelmore researches lettuce and its pathogens, including classical studies of disease resistance, development of detailed genetic maps using molecular markers, and studies on transgene expression and characterization of resistance genes at the molecular level.

The UC Davis Genome Center is a campus resource established in 2003 that uses state-of-the-art technologies to understand how the heritable genetic information of diverse organisms functions in health and disease.


Data science and machine learning for CEA

Mason Earles
Assistant Professor, Engineering, and Viticulture and Enology

Mason Earles is a principal investigator for the National AI Institute for Food Systems (AIFS) hosted at UC Davis. AIFS has several cross-disciplinary projects focused on AI enabled breeding with the goals of increasing nutritional and yield output while decreasing inputs such as water and nutrients. The Earles lab is also developing state-of-the-art machine learning models that are specific to agricultural applications, along with the generation and collection of datasets. He also develops novel AI-enabled sensing systems that use computer vision techniques to monitor plant growth and stress in lettuce, strawberry, grape and almond crops.


Adjacent disciplines relevant to CEA

Julien Delarue
Assistant Professor, Sensory and Consumer Science—Food Science and Technology

Julien Delarue’s research focuses on methods to measure sensory perception and preferences in food design. His lab works to develop and validate rapid and flexible descriptive analysis methods with application to new product development and consumer research.

Edward 'Ned' Spang
Associate Professor, Food Science and Technology

Ned Spang’s research aims to characterize interconnections at the food-energy-water nexus to identify opportunities for resource efficiency and conservation. He conducts research to identify the drivers and impacts of food losses across the food-supply chain, including production. Spang also teaches a newly developed course in sustainable food packaging.

Barbara Blanco-Ulate
Assistant Professor, Plant Sciences

Barbara Blanco-Ulate works on fruit biology and is focused on developing new strategies for improving availability, quality and marketability of postharvest products. Her lab aims to understand how fruit traits change through the postharvest supply chain and how genetics and technology can intersect to deliver high quality products to consumers. She has expertise in assessing and manipulating the shelf-life of fruit products and the trade-offs to fruit quality traits (taste, aroma, texture), using tomato, strawberry and stone fruit, among others.

Linda Harris
Department chair and Cooperative Extension Specialist, Food Science and Technology

Linda Harris is an expert in microbial food safety emphasizing the microbiology of fresh fruits and vegetables and tree nuts. She works to develop and validate standard microbiological methods and uses these methods to evaluate the behavior of foodborne pathogens and efficacy of various sanitizers and thermal processes for reducing microbial populations.