The Biological Systems Engineering Department is housed in two buildings on the University's East Campus. Our primary building, L. W. Chase Hall, has three floors with approximately 5,300 m2 of floor space divided into five classrooms, twelve laboratories, and offices. Located north of L. W. Chase Hall, the Splinter Laboratory (totals 3,000 m2), provides additional laboratory and learning environments, and also houses the Nebraska Tractor Testing facility.
Students also have access to these laboratories:
- College of Engineering on UNL city campus,
- University of Nebraska Dental College,
- University of Nebraska Medical Center for coursework,
- District Extension facilities, and
- Rogers Memorial Farm.
This laboratory is home to the department's efforts in the areas of agricultural odor dispersion and biosphere-atmosphere gas exchange. Dr. Dave Billesbach heads the latter program and works with other BSE faculty and staff (Schulte, Stowell, and Woldt). The laboratory is used in the design, construction, testing, and calibration of micrometeorological sensors and data collection systems related to measurements of the exchange of trace gases (e.g. H2O, CO2, CH4, volatile fatty acids, and other odorous compounds) between the land surface and the atmosphere.
Several major research projects are currently making use of the facility. Dr. Billesbach is working with a group from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to measure carbon, water, and energy exchange from various ecosystems for the U.S. Dept. of Energy's Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) program at its Southern Great Plains Climate Research Facility (SGP-CRF) near Lamont, Oklahoma.
Dr. Billesbach is also working with faculty from Agronomy and Horticulture at UNL'sGudmundsen Sandhills Research Laboratory (GSRL, near Whitman, NE) on a project to directly measure evapotranspiration and other components of the water and carbon cycles in the Nebraska Sandhills. A third project utilizing the laboratory's facilities is National Science Foundation's Biocomplexity project which seeks to understand the stability of the Nebraska Sandhills at the newly established Barta Brothers Research Laboratory (BBRL, near Rose, NE).
Several other research efforts related to the dispersion of livestock odors also utilize the expertise and facilities available from this lab. While the laboratory operates and maintains a large array of equipment, much of it is deployed at active field research sites. Examples of major equipment available are: several research grade, 3-D sonic anemometers (for precise measurements of vector wind speed and temperature); several Infrared Gas Analyzers (IRGAs for measurement of atmospheric CO2 and H2O); a Tunable Diode Laser Absorption Spectrometer (to measure atmospheric CH4 and N2O); and various other atmospheric and soil sensors. In addition to these sensors, the laboratory owns and operates numerous data collection systems, meteorological towers, and solar power systems for field deployment of our sensors. To support these facilities, we have developed state-of-the-art data collection hardware and software as well as advanced data analysis programs. The laboratory also operates a portable Gas Chromatograph/Mass Spectrometer (GC/MS) and a unique calibration system for use in ambient sampling of odorous air.
The Biological Systems Engineering Research Laboratory houses the research shop, machinery laboratory, power laboratory, and the Tractor Test Laboratory. The research shop has all the traditional shop machinery, including mills, lathes, and welders to build any kind of research tool or equipment required by the faculty. A full-time shop supervisor-machinist and two part-time students presently make up the shop staff. The shop is also used for a methods class in welding and wood construction for vocational education students.
The machinery laboratory is used for teaching and research in the tractor performance and machinery areas.
The Industrial Agricultural Products Center also has its extrusion lab in Splinter Labs.
This laboratory, newly constructed in 2004, provides support for biomedical engineering research. The laboratory includes a scan area (for imaging human research subjects) and conventional benchtop space. The scan area is partitioned from the rest of the laboratory by hospital curtains for privacy. Major lab equipment includes a Siemens Antares commercial diagnostic ultrasound machine, tissue-mimicking phantoms, a ventilation hood, ultrasonic pulsers/receivers, arbitrary function generators, RF power amplifiers, digital oscilloscopes, and several custom-built translation tables. In addition, several National Instruments DAQ cards are contained within high-power workstations. Computing resources include MATLAB®, LabVIEW, and Visual C++ software. Most experimental setups are capable of full computer control. The laboratory is used for medical imaging studies and biosignal analysis, such as ultrasound mammography for breast cancer screening, echodentography, cardiovascular flow quantification, ECG/EEG instrumentation, and evoked potentials for neurological experiments.
Engineering Biomaterials and Gene Delivery
The overall goal of this lab is to understand the mechanisms which render cells responsive to DNA transfer, concentrating on the extracellular environment of the cell, as well as the intracellular processes and subsequent signaling involved during nonviral gene delivery. The lab is also collaborating with researchers both within and outside of the Department of Biological Systems Engineering, working to develop novel imaging and probing techniques to study cellular processes, including transfection kinetics, at the single cell level, as well as developing new biomaterials for gene delivery and tissue engineering applications. The main lab contains an enclosed dark room for fluorescence microscopy and 2 office workstations. Equipment within the main lab includes water purification systems, inverted Leica fluorescence microscope, Sorvall benchtop centrifuge, refrigerated microfuge, a fluorometer/ luminometer, UV/VIS spectrophotometer, Bio-Rad electrophoresis system, 4°C refrigerator, -20°C and -80°C freezers, as well as a bacterial incubator. The biosafety cabinet, Heracell CO2 incubators, cell microscope, liquid nitrogen tank, and a refrigerator are located in the adjacent cell culture lab.
The laboratory space in room 118 is used primarily for bioprocessing research and portions of several teaching laboratories are also conducted in the space. Research related to lipid extraction from grain sorghum, production of protein and chitosan films, and modeling heat transfer and microbial growth in meat products is conducted in this lab. Instructors who use the laboratory space for teaching could include the topics of engineering properties of biological materials, food processing unit operations and agricultural products processing and handling. Major equipment available in the lab includes two controlled environmental chambers, three chemical hoods, a freeze dryer, centrifuge, two drying ovens, three cross-flow grain dryers, four balances, three freezers and two refrigerators.
This laboratory and the adjacent Atmospheric Trace Gas Analysis Laboratory, are focal points of the Department's efforts in air quality research. Environmental engineering faculty sharing these laboratories include Drs. Billesbach, Schulte, Stowell and Woldt. In addition to air quality research equipment, the laboratory includes a walk-in environmental chamber, two biological incubators, two fume hoods and a variety of water quality research and bio-instrumentation equipment. In addition to advanced analytical equipment, a GC-Mass Spectrometer and an electronic nose are located in these laboratories.
This instructional facility is used for electronics, sensors, and instrumentation labs for courses offered by Biological Systems and Agricultural Engineering, Mechanized Systems Management, Agronomy Horticulture, and the School of Natural Resources (SNR). The lab has eight Windows XP computers and a laser printer. Each computer has MatLab® and LabView software installed, along with specialty software for eight data loggers and 68HC11 micro controllers. Workshops are also taught covering cross-discipline education, e.g. with global change as the foundation. A variety of classes use the lab to support coursework. The "Bio-Atmospheric Instrumentation" course features principles of the Great Plains automated weather data network. "Instrumentation and Controls" and "Sensors and Controls for Agri-Industries" features the CR-10 and LabJack loggers and micro controllers in several applications. "Introduction to Biomedical Engineering" in our department and "Greenhouse Heating and Cooling" from the Agronomy Horticulture department are another featured classes.
SNR, in conjunction with the Nebraska Earth Science Education Network (NESEN), has conducted workshops for K-12 teachers about weather and climate education. A Global Environmental Change Education Workshop, funded by the National Institute for Global Environmental Change, was taught covering cross-discipline education with global change as the foundation of the workshop. Another activity in the lab is the summer high school experience presented by the College of Engineering, "Bright Lights - Virtual Electronics." The lab was originally funded by a National Science Foundation Equipment Grant, with matching funds provided by the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources and the College of Engineering.
Faculty and students are able to conduct experiments and extension demonstrations at the department-managed Rogers Memorial Farm, a 300-acre farm located 12 miles east of Lincoln. The farm is typical of the rolling farmlands of eastern Nebraska and is managed by an agricultural research technician with oversight from the department's research farm committee. Several classes use this no-till farm as a teaching laboratory for topics related to soil and water conservation, crop production, grain handling, machinery management, soil properties, and wildlife management.
Presently, the primary research efforts include long-term conservation tillage, site-specific crop management, and buffer and filter strips. In addition, faculty and students may use any of the four Research and Extension Center farms located across the state and the Agricultural Research and Development Center located forty miles north of Lincoln in Mead, Nebraska.
This laboratory is well-suited for teaching and research in water measurement, soil erosion, pump operations, pipeline hydraulics, open channel hydraulics, chemigation safety, and irrigation sprinkler profile analysis. Two vertical turbine and one horizontal centrifugal pump can supply up to 2,000 gpm for project needs. Water in the lab is supplied from a 12,500 gallon underground reservoir and is recirculated through the channel and pipe network. Water measurement equipment includes pipeline venturis and flow measurement flumes equipped with electronic transducers and ultrasonic measurement for pipelines.
Undergraduate and graduate students have access to a modern computer laboratory. This general laboratory has 26 Windows XP workstations (3.0 and 1.8 GHz) with LCD monitors along, with high-speed laser black-and-white and color printing, and a flatbed scanner. Each workstation has office tools and specialized engineering design and mechanized systems software. A Windows 2003 (active directory) domain server provides for individual student accounts, private storage, and daily backup. The lab is equipped with a digital projector and screen for software instruction and formal demonstrations.
All departmental computers operate on a network, connecting the entire campus and outside world through the internet. UNL faculty, staff, and students communicate using electronic mail, within the University and around the world, and have access to University and world-wide library sources. Students also have access to individual course materials 24-hours per day through the Academic Portal, a web-based support system for teaching. In addition, an adjacent student project design room has computer support and space for student projects. The department's full-time computer specialist is responsible for the daily operation of the network, account administration, and is available to solve computer problems. Instructional computing, video-based visualizers, and projected multimedia presentations are provided in the five classrooms in L. W. Chase Hall.
Equipment in this lab meets the land surveying needs for research and teaching. Tripod leveling equipment includes six automatic level systems, a laser system with six targets, and an electronic total surveying station with two theodelites. The lab also has two backpack mapping grade GPS units. For area and distance measure from maps, seven electronic planimeters and map measuring wheels are available.
The Machine Vision Laboratory contains special workstations and equipment for developing and testing machine vision applications. The lab has been used for imaging and plant (weed) detection and species identification, and other machine vision projects with Agronomy Horticulture and Food Technology. Equipment includes 700 MHz, 3.0 GHz and 3.2 GHz Windows XP workstations with commercial and custom image processing programs, Visual Basic®, Visual C++, MatLab®, LabView®, Neural-Network and Fuzzy logic toolboxes, and SAS® statistics. A controlled-lighting room provides standard 5500K daylight room lighting and a special stand for studying light sources for imaging. Digital cameras can be accessed or controlled from a nearby computer. Equipment includes several light intensity and color temperature meters. The laboratory has a spectro radiometer, standardization panel, digital cameras, and scanners, including matched pairs of CCD black-and-white and color video cameras. The lab has a selection of precision optical band pass filters. Projects have ranged from machine vision applications (particularly weed detection) to seed spacing measurement and soil sensors development. Other projects were related to the departmental undergraduate and graduate programs.
The Nebraska Tractor Test Laboratory tests and measures tractor performance. Test engineers and staff conduct performance tests on agricultural tractors above 40 horsepower. Equipment includes dynamometers, data acquisition equipment, hydraulic power and flow, and sound level measuring devices. The Laboratory serves the state and nation by testing and making the tractor performance results available to the public, free of charge, from their website. Usually, eight to ten students work part-time at the Laboratory throughout the academic year. The Laboratory also contracts with private industry in testing and evaluating other entities such as other types of vehicles, alternative fuels, and engine energy savings devices.
Physics and Instrument Laboratory
This laboratory is used for the Mechanized Systems Management Physical Principles in Agriculture lab section, with one section taught every fall semester and two sections taught every spring semester. More than 35 individual physics lab exercises on topics from mechanics, heat and electricity are conducted for this course. Most of the laboratory experiments in the Mechanized Systems Management course in Sensors and Control Systems in Agri-Industries are also conducted in this room every spring semester. These exercises include constructing and testing voltage dividers, determining the gain of instrumentation amplifiers, calibrating rotary potentiometer and photoelectric rotary shaft encoder displacement transducers, constructing and testing a seed detection sensor for a planter monitor, calibrating temperature sensors, and constructing and calibrating a strain gage beam-type load cell.
The plant biophysics laboratory contains three large, reach-in, programmable Conviron E-15® environmental chambers, each with computer support for plant growth modeling, thermodynamics, theoretical energy-based, water use calculations, and plant and turf grass calorimetry. The newest chamber provides approximately 1,400 micro-moles of photosynthetically-active radiation (PAR) or equivalent to one-third full sunlight. Water use measurements and crop stress index development use electronic load cell lysimeters, single leaf porometer systems, psychrometers, self-equilibrating manometers, and leaf temperature measurements, using conventional infrared thermometers and IRT/c's. The laboratory has a low-resolution, pyroelectric thermal imaging system, for assessing spatial emissivity and surface temperatures. CO2 gas exchange and humidity measurements are available. The laboratory has precision pyranometer and PAR sensors. Spectral analyses for reflection and transmission of biological materials can be performed, using a diffraction grating spectroradiometer and integrating sphere. Modern 12- and 16-bit data logging equipment is available, along with computer and network support. Using plants from greenhouses on East Campus for short-term controlled-environment analyses, the environmental chambers have successfully demonstrated dynamic crop temperature responses to moisture stress, infrared heating, such as might be used in greenhouses, and plant-directed drip irrigation.
This is the teaching laboratory for Agricultural and Biological Systems Engineering Power Systems Design (every spring semester), Mechanized Systems Management (MSYM) Hydraulic Power Systems (every fall semester), and MSYM Engine Power Systems, every spring semester. Equipment resources in this room include three hydraulic test benches; several engines; a tractor chassis with engine, transmission and hydraulic system; an electric engine dynamometer; a number of Briggs and Stratton small engines; a JD 3010 gasoline engine; and instrumentation to measure the airflow rate into the combustion chambers of an engine during a dynamometer test. Several of the exercises conducted in this laboratory include calibrating hydraulic flow meters, measuring the volumetric efficiency of a hydraulic pump, determining pressures and input and output forces from hydraulic cylinders, measuring the pressure drop across a needle valve as a function of flow rate through the valve, and engine dynamometer tests. This lab is housed in the Biological Systems Engineering Research Laboratory.
The Sensor and Controls Laboratory is equipped with special tools for development and testing applications based on microprocessor data acquisition and processing, and includes several workstations with various programming and data management software packages. On-the-go soil property mapping coupled with a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver is being used with various instruments including imaging equipment, optical tools, electrochemical meters and other sensor components. Seed spacing instrumentation for size, rate, pattern, and application on diverse terrain are more examples of some of the work being done in this lab.
This laboratory is equipped to measure saturated hydraulic conductivity, soil water release properties, bulk density, soil water content, and soil particle size. The equipment in the lab includes: falling head permeameters, a flexible wall permeameter, neutron radiation soil moisture meter, and Time Domain Reflectrometry for soil water measurement, thermocouple psychrometers, Tempe and pressure plate chambers, and fluorescent dye tracing equipment.
The Industrial Agricultural Products Center (IAPC) extrusion lab is located on the second floor of Splinter Labs. This laboratory is dedicated primarily to extrusion research. Both single-screw and twin-screw computer-operated C.W. Brabender lab scale extruders are located in this laboratory. Numerous screw and die configurations are available, as well as compounding and film blowing capabilities. The laboratory is equipped to determine the physical characteristics, mechanical and thermal properties and selected chemical properties of extruded materials. Current research includes starches, and lipid and protein-based polymers from corn, soybeans, sorghum, and beef tallow.
The physical and chemical properties of biobased products, such as alternative fuels and polymers, are analyzed using the laboratories equipment. An Instron Universal Testing Machine, Brookfield viscometers, and general laboratory equipment are used to test the physical properties, while gas chromatography, differential scanning calorimetry, high performance liquid chromatography, Fourier transform infrared spectrometry, and bomb calorimetry are used to test thermal and chemical properties. Grinding and pelletizing equipment, and various pressurized and heat controlled reactors support product characterization and development efforts of these laboratory facilities.
Pilot scale extrusion and oil expression facilities also are located in the Industrial Agricultural Products Center's pilot plant located at the Agricultural Research and Development Center near Mead, NE. The larger equipment at that facility supports commercial scale-up activities with industrial partners.
The watershed analysis laboratory provides a location for computing and plotting equipment for development and use of geographic information systems, watershed models, digitizing and preparing maps. A Sun workstation, several personal computers, a drum plotter, printers and digitizing equipment are included in the laboratory. Global positioning equipment is available for creating maps and gathering data. The lab is primarily used by graduate students, postdoctoral assistants, research engineers and student workers. As the Department focuses more on watershed analysis and site-specific farming, the need for geographical information systems, mapping, digitizing and plotting will increase.