Rob Gardner joined the University of Minnesota (U of MN) West Central Research and Outreach Center (WCROC) in 2014 as an Assistant Professor, after completing his Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering at Montana State University. Rob brought expertise and passion for a totally new facet of renewable energy research at the WCROC by utilizing the many properties of algae for production of biofuels and bioproducts. He searched for methods of using algae to recycle nutrients in agricultural systems to make those systems more environmentally sustainable. Rob was a noted expert in the Algal Biomass field of inquiry. His work on the use of algae to capture nutrients and recycle them as crop fertilizer was novel and had beneficial effects on crop growth and soil quality. Rob connected with Chippewa Valley Ethanol Company to help find practical uses in algae production for the carbon dioxide they generated.
Rob brimmed with enthusiasm for teaching students; he co-taught an online class through the U of MN, Renewable Energy and the Environment, as well as served as an advisor for several student interns. He provided students with numerous hands-on opportunities in his research lab including design of research apparatuses, sample and data collection, and data analysis. Rob was very proud of his students and their accomplishments brought personal and professional satisfaction to him. He mentored 1 PhD, 1 MS, and 4 undergraduate intern students in his time at the U of MN. While co-teaching his online class, he spent Saturdays hosting U of MN Twin Cities students at the WCROC to learn about renewable energy systems studied at the Center.
During his time at the U of MN, Rob authored or co-authored 10 refereed papers, 3 book chapters, 10 posters and abstracts, received 4 research grants as PI or Co-PI, was a reviewer for 5 scientific journals, and served on 4 national and state grant review panels. Rob was a willing collaborator with his colleagues on research and teaching projects. His lab in the USDA-ARS facility in Morris represented a new collaboration for the WCROC and USDA which Rob made very successful. Rob said many times, "I am all about collaboration."
Rob was also a member of the Algae Biomass Organization (ABO). He became involved as a student and attended every ABO Summit from 2008 to 2018. Rob was a leader in helping to organize the ABO Summit for many years. He introduced the idea of the "Young Innovators Lounge" which still exists today to inspire young people to pursue a career in algae.
Rob passed away on October 23, 2019 at the age of 39. He was a passionate teacher, had a great sense of humor, and an incredible spirit. He will be deeply missed.