Posted by John Lewis
It was a vintage Iowa summer day---moderate temperatures with a few fluffy clouds---when we gathered at the Wakonda Club for our weekly Rotary meeting, with President Shawn Mullen calling us to order and asking Colleen Rogers Messenger to share with us a few words of inspiration.  She did so, with an ode to the sunflower, appropriate in light of our speaker’s background in botany.  Kent Zimmerman introduced our visiting Rotarians and guests, then Randy Worth reminded us of the upcoming meeting of the Wheel Fellowship group on Aug. 25.  Rob Smith’s colorful report on the results of the Golf Fellowship’s recent outing might have made many wonder why some of those mentioned are not on the Tour. President Shawn told us about some of our members who recently helped the Iowa Food Bank prepare for shipment two tons---yes, that’s right, two tons---of pasta.  Great work for a good cause.
Denise Essman then introduced our speaker for the day, Sarah Nusser, Vice-president for Research at Iowa State University.  Originally from Iowa City, Sarah graduated in Botany from ISU and gained further degrees later, but was in private industry prior to returning to her alma mater in her present position.  ISU not only is intensively involved in research but, being a land-grant institution, has a responsibility to assist in transferring that knowledge to the public.  Added to that is the need to mentor undergraduate and graduate students in the area of research and inquiry, emphasizing (a) find out what we already know; (b) frame good research questions; and (c) create vigorous approaches to analyzing information, then to find ways to translate that knowledge to the public.  Today, Sarah spoke mainly to three areas, those being improving health, ensuring sustainability, and promoting new materials and advancing manufacturing technologies.  Related to improving health, along with helping to strengthen healthy habits, much research is aimed at Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s, including social activities that can delay or alleviate the ravages of those diseases in certain instances.  Also, vaccines and immunotherapeutic options are being researched that will be useful in treating animal diseases like the avian influenza outbreak we saw a few years ago.  These developments bring additional value to livestock production by cutting losses from diseases in animals.
Toward the topic of sustainability, Sarah said that today’s demographic shifts are creating many communities that compel us to ‘Shrink Smart’.  Even if population drops, the quality of life can be protected by moves to sustain a quality of life through services such as schools and daycare options for children, opportunities for seniors to socialize and access services and broader community access to services like shopping and high-quality medical care.  By sustaining or improving services available there, the attractiveness of small town life can remain in many instances.  As to the promotion of new materials and advancing manufacturing technologies, in some ways it’s a continuation of the sustainability thrust, but in agriculture.  Some areas might be faster development of new crop varieties, equipment such as sensors to provide real time data on plants and soil conditions, and predictive analytical modeling to support decisions.  Bio-based products have taken on a greater role in that they can be developed from renewable resources available on most farms and can assist in creation of insecticides, preservatives for consumer products and safer products, flame-retardant nylons being an example.  Out of the development of so many new products and methods has come new opportunities in the business field.  ISU has a system under which proceeds and profits from such ventures are split one-third to the inventor, one-third to the ISU department under which it was developed and the remaining third to the ISU Research Foundation which incurs the costs of gaining patents and administering the oversight of the process. 
It was a very good opportunity to glimpse examples of the kind of research and application of findings at ISU that are contributing to Iowa’s position of leadership in the nation and world as well as meeting and hearing from one of its leaders in this effort.  It was a most enlightening program and we are most appreciative to Sarah Nusser for speaking to us today.