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Gates named Special Visiting Researcher to Brazil

Published October 17, 2013
Richard Gates and colleagues in Itanhandu, Minas Gerais, Brazil
Gates (third from right) with colleagues in Itanhandu, Minas Gerais, Brazil

URBANA, Ill. - Richard Gates was awarded a Special Visiting Researcher scholarship by the Brazilian government through Brazil’s Science without Borders program. Gates is a professor of agricultural and biological engineering at the University of Illinois, and co-leader of the Animal Welfare and Environmental Systems (AWES) laboratory and the Bioenvironmental Structural Systems (BESS) laboratory.

The scholarship program for special visiting researchers (“Pesquisadors Visitante Especial,” or PVE’s) aims to attract senior foreign researchers recognized internationally as leaders in priority areas, such as engineering, technology and health sciences. Gates is one of 66 awardees this year. Under this award, Gates will conduct projects with Brazilian research groups and is expected to visit Brazil for up to three months annually for the next three years.

The program funds a project in Brazil that includes a substantial team of multi-disciplinary researchers from multiple institutions. The Federal University of Viçosa (UFV), Minas Gerais, Brazil, is the host institution. The proposal to receive Gates as a PVE was submitted by Professora Dra Lêda Rita D’Antonio Faroni, the director of graduate studies at UFV, and the principal investigator, Professora Dra Ilda de Fátima Ferreira Tinôco, is the Brazilian lead for the project titled “Animal Environments in Hot Climates: Tools and Intelligent Systems for Evaluating the Thermal Environment and its Relation to Space and Time in Laying Hen Facilities.” Funding is provided by CNPq (National Council for Scientific and Technological Development) and CAPES (Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel).

Additional scholarships for doctoral students and postdoctoral researchers at both Illinois and in Brazil are included, providing Brazilian graduate students and researchers opportunities for “sandwich programs” for training with Gates at the AWES and BESS labs at Illinois. “I have two doctoral students at the Federal University of Viçosa now who are preparing their paperwork to come here for training,” said Gates. “I have been a member of the graduate faculty at the Federal University of Viçosa since 2009, and as far as I know, I’m the only American who can direct graduate students, so this PVE program will provide added opportunities for my U.S. and Brazilian students.”

Gates said that his project seeks to improve the indoor environment of laying hen facilities in tropical and subtropical climates such as Brazil. It involves the design of alternative facilities with improved insulation and mechanical ventilation, and compares their operation with naturally ventilated facilities. This study will develop guidelines for energy-efficient hybrid systems of ventilation to maintain productivity and enhance bird welfare while ensuring a safe and sustainable egg supply system.

“The research focus of our project in Brazil is to evaluate new ways to design and ventilate laying hen houses,” said Gates. “We just completed a year-long study in the AWES lab, looking at the effect of areal ammonia concentration on laying hen preferences. Some of the alternative housing systems that are being developed aren’t ventilated very well, and the ammonia levels can be higher than generally recommended. The AWES lab has an animal preference chamber with four environmentally controlled compartments that allow us to give the bird a clear choice among alternative conditions. For instance, will they tolerate high ammonia levels if it is warmer, or do they prefer cooler temperatures and low ammonia levels? That’s a simple example of what preference chambers can tell us. The AWES facility will provide a training component for the students who come here, and then we’ll all work together to develop a set of protocols on how to conduct preference testing.”

Additional scientists from UFV and Illinois are involved in the project, as well as researchers from the Federal University of Lavras, the University of São Paulo at Pirassununga, the State University of Campinas, the State University of Mato Grosso do Sul, the Federal University of Espirito Santo, and the National University of Colombia-Medellin.

“I’m excited and honored to have been selected by the Brazilian government to receive this award,” Gates concluded. “This will certainly enhance opportunities for research and training collaborations between our institutions.”