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New department head to lead U of I
Ag and Bio Engineering into the automation age    
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[OCT. 28, 2004]  URBANA -- The University of Illinois is positioned to help lead agriculture from the mechanization century into the automation age -- the age of intelligent machinery, said K.C. Ting, the new head of the U of I Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering. He takes over for Loren Bode, who stepped down after 11 years as department head.

Ting is only the sixth head since the department was formed in 1921, during a time when agriculture was being revolutionized by mechanization. Ting noted that the mechanization of agriculture was listed by the National Academy of Engineering among the top 20 engineering achievements of the 20th century.

However, he foresees that the next revolution in farm machinery will be automation -- a movement toward smart machines that can make humanlike decisions and adjustments automatically. This includes everything from self-guided robots and remote sensing systems to animal housing that can adjust environmental conditions automatically.

Ting comes to U of I from Ohio State, where he was chair of the Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering. During his tenure at Ohio State, student numbers were almost doubled and faculty's external funding increased significantly.

Ting said he hopes to similarly boost student recruitment at U of I, and he aims to keep the program at the top of the national rankings. The most recent rankings from U.S. News and World Report showed U of I as having the No. 2 agricultural engineering program in the United States.

"This is also the only agricultural engineering program in the country to be part of two top-five-ranked colleges," Ting added.

U of I's Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering is part of the College of Engineering, as well as the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. And each of those colleges is ranked in the top five in the country.

For Ting, the move to Illinois is something of a homecoming because he received his Ph.D. in agricultural engineering from U of I in 1980.

"It's very exciting and humbling to be coming back to Illinois," he said. "Most of the things that I have been able to do for the past 24 years came from what I learned here."

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Ting has certainly managed to do a lot in those 24 years, having worked in virtually every area of agricultural and biological engineering. Most recently, he has applied agricultural engineering concepts to advanced life-support systems for NASA. He has been studying ways to grow food, handle wastes, recover resources and deal with other needs of crews who may someday spend long periods on Mars.

In addition to his considerable experience, Ting has the vision to lead the department into the 21st century, noted Bode, who has been with the department since 1972. Also, by stepping in for Bode, he completes the department's move to a new generation of agricultural and biological engineers.

"The earlier generation did a tremendous job on mechanization and serving the production community," Bode said. "But now we have a new generation of young faculty, and we're moving into the information age, in which remote sensing, robotics and similar technology have taken center stage."

The department is also integrating biology into its mission in ways that had not been done in the past.

"We're bringing life to engineering," Ting said. Instead of just nuts and bolts, agricultural engineering today draws in a lot more chemistry, microbiology and other life sciences.

Ting steps in as the new department head on Nov 1. As for Bode, he will remain active, working with students, improving recruitment and leading training programs in the chemical application area.

"The bottom line," Bode added, "is that I'll do what my new boss tells me."

[University of Illinois news release]

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