USDA awards research grant to Chemical Engineering’s Nayani

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Karthik Nayani

The US Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture awarded Karthik Nayani a research grant of nearly $300,000 to develop a method for rapid reporting of heat stress in poultry. Nayani is an assistant professor in the Ralph E. Martin Department of Chemical Engineering at the U of A.

Heat stress negatively affects the growth and development of broiler chickens, a staple in global meat production. It’s a common summer challenge for poultry farmers in Arkansas and other parts of the country where poultry farming is a critical food source and industry. By studying red blood cells from healthy and heat-stressed chickens, Nayani’s research will create an experimental data set and develop a rapid reporting technique.

The information contained in red blood cells – dispersed in liquid crystals – will be processed using convolutional neural networks. This type of network works as an algorithm capable of reading an image and assigning it a label. In this case, the molecular signatures of heat stress are the image that can be read in order to classify whether heat stress is felt.

Ultimately, this research could help farmers determine more quickly whether their poultry is affected by heat stress than currently available methods. Nayani’s research will focus on broiler chickens, but this method can be applied to other types of livestock.

“Interfacing soft objects, such as cells, with functional materials, like liquid crystals, is a key theme in my lab,” Nayani said. “Liquid crystal imaging containing red blood cells provides feature-rich images well suited for classification with neural networks to reveal hidden connections. The goal of this work is to determine if certain features of these images can be related to molecular signatures of heat stress.

Nayani continued, “In the long term, we hope to provide fundamental insights into the development of a rapid notification device that can easily identify the presence of heat stress in poultry.

“The impacts of research conducted by Karthik Nayani on poultry health have the potential to have a significant impact on our state, as Arkansas is one of the leading producers of poultry in the United States,” said Keisha Bishop Walters, head of the chemical engineering department at the U of A. She also noted that “research related to animal agriculture is important for economic development, as the poultry industry is responsible for 40,000 jobs across the state.

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture is a federal agency that funds agricultural research, education, and extension. Created in 2008, the agency’s financing action focuses on agricultural issues at individual and national level.

Nayani joined the Department of Chemical Engineering in the fall of 2020 and holds the Louis Owen Professorship in Chemical Engineering. His research interests focus on flexible materials, biomaterials and self-assembly. He got his doctorate. from the Georgia Institute of Technology and was a postdoctoral fellow at Cornell University before coming to the U of A.

Sami Dridi, a professor in the Department of Poultry Science, and Ukash Nakarmi, an assistant professor in the U of A’s Department of Computer Science and Computer Engineering, are co-investigators on the project.

About the Department of Chemical Engineering: Chemical Engineering has been part of the University of Arkansas curriculum since 1903. Today, the Ralph E. Martin Department of Chemical Engineering has over 300 students enrolled in its undergraduate and graduate programs and is home to five Endowed Chairs and eight Endowed Chairs to support its faculty. Faculty expertise includes cell engineering, chemical process safety, advanced materials, and membrane separations. A wide range of basic and applied research is carried out in the fields of energy, health, sustainability and computational chemical engineering. The department is also home to the Chemical Hazards Research Center and is one of three national sites of the Center for Membrane Science, Engineering and Technology (MAST). The Department of Chemical Engineering is named after alumnus Ralph E. Martin (BSCh.E.’58, MSCh.E.’60) in recognition of his 2005 endowment gift.