Student Spotlight: Adriana Alvarez De la Hoz

Adriana Alvarez

Name: Adriana Alvarez De la Hoz

Hometown: Barranquilla - Colombia

Degree Pursuing: PhD in Bioproducts and Biosystems Science, Engineering and Management

Advisor: Robert D. Gardner

Research Focus: Applications of microalgae in agriculture and the environment

Why did you choose your current field of study?

The environmental impact of our modern human societies is increasingly evident. We are now facing the challenge of protecting the natural resources that we still have, while meeting our constantly growing demands for food, energy and water. I am a biologist with a masters in Biotechnology of Microorganisms, and I truly believe that microorganisms have a huge potential to obtain bioproducts for a sustainable future. In particular, I chose microalgae because of the remarkably wide range of applications that we can develop from them in a renewable and sustainable way. As an example, we could capture the energy from sunlight to power a nutrient recycling system that uses our wastewater to produce fertilizers, feed and fuels, and at the same time reduce the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that we all share. This is starting to become a reality in universities and industry, and microalgae are part of it; but it is definitely not easy to do and we still need to keep working on it.

Why did you choose the University of Minnesota?

The first time I visited the University of Minnesota website and looked for graduate programs, I became impressed with the high number of biology-related options. I immediately realized that this University would provide a great environment to grow as a researcher in the life sciences and, equally important, that it would deeply support and value the efforts that are made to advance science. In addition to this, I was looking for an interdisciplinary program between sciences and engineering to learn how to focus my scientific research on potential applications, and this was exactly what I found at the University of Minnesota. 

In what ways has your involvement at the WCROC enhanced your educational experience?

The West Central Research and Outreach Center (WCROC) is focused on the sustainability of agricultural processes and is committed to use renewable energy technologies to achieve this sustainability. I can certainly say that the exposure to the field, the crops and the barns, has increased my understanding of the complexity of the environmental issues related to the agricultural production and my commitment to work on feasible solutions. Also, the effort that is being made to include renewable energy technologies like solar panels, wind turbines and microalgae, makes me believe that a sustainable agriculture is possible and is worth striving for. 

What has been a highlight during your time at the WCROC?

The WCROC does a great job encouraging the community to get involved and learn about the current projects and new technologies. I would like to highlight three particular activities: 1) the frequent tours that are provided to the community so they have a better sense on the impact of the application of renewable technologies in farming, 2) the talks and seminars to share recent findings, and 3) the beautiful Horticulture Display Garden during the summer with selected varieties of flowering plants that the community really enjoys.

What are your future plans?

I am committed to continue doing research in my field because it is what drives our understanding of biological systems and the development of new technologies. However, I have realized how important it is to transfer the already existing and available technology to where it is needed most, either the community or businesses. In the future, I would like to split my time between science and technology transfer while inspiring the next generation through education.