Big data has become a buzzword recently, and no one is better qualified to explain how it works than Dr. Samantha Horvath, Director of Research and Development for Agrible, Inc.
Horvath grew up on the East Coast, and as a child was eager to seek out answers to the question, "Why?"
"Technology was a big focus in our household growing up," said Horvath. "We were always building things with our hands and figuring out how to solve problems using math and science. I also had some really good math and science teachers, so that helped develop my interest as well."
In high school, Horvath was placed on an accelerated honors track and was involved in volleyball and theatre to round out her education. "I thought I wanted to be a marine biologist," said Horvath, but her interests led her to initially pursue marine chemistry, and she ultimately graduated from the University of Tampa with a B.S. degree in Chemistry.
Following graduation, Horvath moved to the Midwest to attend The Ohio State University where she earned her PhD in Physical Chemistry, which involved simulations and modeling of physical processes. Her thesis was on the topic of spectroscopy and dynamics of small anionic clusters. She continued with a postdoctoral position at Penn State studying the dynamics and efficiency of coupled reactions. "At one of the Department of Energy's Energy Frontier Research Centers, the Center for Molecular Electrocatalysis at PNNL, I studied how and why the energy conversion process happens, to determine if you can get a faster response. We also looked at solar energy transport and reaction dynamics of larger scale energy processes," said Horvath.
Horvath moved to Central Illinois at the invitation of her postdoc advisor and worked as a Research Fellow under Sharon Hammes-Schiffer, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Illinois. However, she decided not to stay in academia. "I didn't want the life of a research professor," said Horvath, so she went to work at Illinois Rocstar as a research scientist working on computational engineering and modeling of large systems.
When Agrible started looking for talented scientists to lead their data analytics team, Horvath was excited to start a new challenge. She wanted to continue doing important work and develop her skills seeking the "why" of all things science. At Agrible, Horvath leads a team of product developers who create the Morning Farm Report web platform along with a variety of other specialized projects for a host of clients both nationally and globally.
Some of her jobs include verifying and validating various computer models, working with the development team to create new products, and determining how to deliver and present large amounts of data science to the front end of the website, so growers can easily interact with it to improve efficiency on their farming operations.
She is especially excited about her work on Morning Farm Report's Sustainability program, which takes agronomic practices from a grower's field and provides sustainability metrics. Some of these practices include fertilizer use, nitrogen use, type of tillage, irrigation, and energy use, to name a few.
Horvath is also leading science work with two new products: Barley Quality Engine, which employs the use of phenological models that characterizes metrics for malting barley like protein content, plumpness, and germination, and Pest Engine, which uses similar models to send alerts to growers when their crop is likely to have increased disease or insect pressure on specific fields. These alerts come in the form of daily emails via tablet, cell phone, or laptop.
Horvath did not grow up on a farm, but she has learned a lot about farming on the job, and she's not afraid to get dirty out in the field. Last winter while studying how to write computer models for the effects of cover crops on soil quality, Horvath braved the cold and wind to experience some physical science first hand and ensure that her models were correct. "There was a considerable difference in the soil composition between the soil that was planted with cover crops and the soil that wasn't," said Horvath. So she headed back to her office at Agrible to work some data science magic and figure out the "why" of those differences.