Students Help with Swine Industry Research at Iowa State University

Some student employees at Iowa State University are playing a vital role in research on critical issues in today’s swine industry. Assistant professor in agricultural and biosystems engineering Dan Andersen said a current three-university research project focusing on the causes of manure pit foaming offers great opportunity for student involvement.

“People from the University of Illinois, the University of Minnesota and Iowa State have been working together on this project,” Andersen said. “Faculty, staff and students all having a variety of backgrounds is beneficial because it gives different perspectives. There are about ten people from Iowa State involved, including four students. We generally hire students from within the department, although they might not have similar previous experiences.”

Mark Van Weelden is one of those students. As a civil engineering graduate student with a passion for water treatment, his experience has been unique, and valuable.

“Dan took me under his wing and helped me learn more about the project,” he said. “I never thought I would ever touch manure.”

Yet, in 13 months, he has worked with others to collect monthly samples from foaming and non-foaming pits on 50 farms. The samples were tested for methane gas production, viscosity, and other factors in an effort to determine necessary factors for the foaming to occur. This in turn could help researchers develop recommendations on how to lessen the chance for foaming to ignite and cause damage and injury to people or animals.

“The discovery of how much methane gas is produced by various samples was the most helpful,” Van Weelden said. “Although it didn’t solve the problem, it has helped researchers better understand the foaming.”

Currently, researchers are working on how different feed combinations affect manure composition.

“This has been very interesting because it affects real people, and it is something that is not already figured out so you have to think from all levels,” Van Weelden said.

He said he thinks everyone should do some type of research at some point in their career, and Iowa State is a great place for students to learn about research even if that’s not what they think they want to do for a career.

“You will learn something new, and you will learn how to think differently,” Van Weelden said, “Iowa State is a great university because it has a considerable amount of opportunities in research for students.”