WED AM News: UW researcher develops ‘insect eavesdropper’ to help protect crops; Alliant announces six new solar projects completed

— A UW-Madison researcher has developed a method for identifying insect infestations in plants, giving farmers a potential new tool for protecting their crops. 

The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation is touting the invention as a top licensing prospect in the food and agriculture sector. 

Assistant Prof. Emily Bick has created a machine-learning algorithm that uses audio signals from microphones to find infestations — including bugs that bore into the plant’s structure, which are difficult to identify without destroying the crops. She is a specialist in precision pest ecology for field and forage crops in the university’s Department Entomology. 

“This is the first time a clip-on contact microphone or a stick-on contact microphone has been used to record insect feeding sounds,” Bick said in remarks provided by WARF. “But the key piece for this invention is not just how do we put the parts together, but how do we interpret those sounds that we’re picking up on.” 

She says current methods for finding insects in crops requires an “extreme amount” of time and labor, compounding the economic impact of these pests. Plus, farmers typically have to rely on historical weather and climate data in making decisions about addressing pests, which can be unreliable for predicting activity in a given year. 

As an alternative to chopping into plants to find pests by hand, Bick developed what she calls the “insect eavesdropper,” which uses inexpensive technology to record insect feeding sounds. By tracking vibrations in the plant rather than sound waves in the air, it can distinguish between that chewing sound and natural noises from precipitation and other weather. 

“From those sounds, we can pre-process it and train machine-learning algorithms not just to detect presence and absence, but also to differentiate these species,” she said. “So someone like me can actually put all these pieces together, and take all of these parts which were not designed to study insects in agriculture, and put them together in a way that’s really useful.” 

The research team continues to work on how to determine the density or number of insects within the plant, which Bick says will help farmers and ag consultants decide when and how to respond to an infestation. 

“Better data means better decisions, hopefully means less pesticides sprayed,” she said. 

See more on Bick’s work: 

— Alliant Energy has announced the completion of six new solar projects, which have tripled the Madison-based utility’s solar energy capacity. 

These new projects include: the Albany Solar Project in Green County; the Cassville Solar Project in Grant County; the Onion River Solar Project in Sheboygan County; the Paddock Solar Project in Rock County; the Springfield Solar Project in Dodge County; and the Wautoma Solar Project in Waushara County. 

In total, these projects add 514 megawatts of solar capacity to the company’s generation mix, according to last week’s announcement. Individual projects range from 50 megawatts to 150 megawatts, the release shows. 

David de Leon, Alliant Energy’s Wisconsin president, says finishing these projects represents “a huge milestone” for the business. The company’s clean energy plans include 12 utility-scale solar projects in total, three of which came online in 2022. Those added 250 megawatts of solar energy to Alliant’s portfolio. 

Meanwhile, the other three projects are now in the final phases of construction, the company says. Those are expected to be completed by mid-2024. In total, the projects will be able to generate 1,089 megawatts — enough to power about 300,000 homes annually. 

“We’re proud to leverage new technology and locally generated energy solutions to increase customer value and help avoid long-term costs,” de Leon said in a statement. “Adding this solar power to the grid is just one way we’re diversifying our energy generation portfolio and increasing customer access to clean, reliable, cost-effective energy.” 

See the release: 

See more on the company’s plans: 

Listen to a recent podcast with Mike Bremel, Alliant’s director of engineering and customer solutions: 

— The Wisconsin Technology Council next week will host electric vehicle experts to discuss the latest EV trends. 

The next Tech Council Innovation Network will be held Jan. 11 at the UW-Milwaukee Innovation Accelerator in Wauwatosa. 

The discussion will focus on how policymakers are addressing “range anxiety” in Wisconsin, other potential challenges for the industry and other trends. 

“While EV sales are still growing faster than any other major automobile category in the United States, demand is slackening to the point that General Motors, Ford Motor and Tesla are rethinking how quickly they retool factories to produce them,” Tech Council President Tom Still said in a statement. 

Panelists will include Mark Bender of the law firm Godfrey & Khan, Prof. Ayman EL-Refaie of Marquette University, Paul Gogan of WEC Energy Group and Dan Nordloh of Faith Technologies’ EnTech Solutions division. 

See event details: 

Register here: 

— The Madworks Accelerator program is taking applications for its next winter cohort through Jan. 19, organizers announced recently. 

The free, 10-week program will run Feb. 14 through April 25, giving participants access to mentors and tools to focus on building their board management and financial foundation. Entrepreneurs taking part will be eligible for up to $6,500 in grant and expense funding. 

The cohort will meet at the co-working space StartingBlock Madison.

See more at Madison Startups: 

See the application: 


# Family before hockey: New book explores NHL career cut short for Wisconsin Badgers star

# ‘Top Chef,’ James Beard made 2023 a massive year in Madison food

# Wauwatosa’s oldest active brewery changes ownership



– Ridgetop Farm adopts considerate conservation practices 

– Wisconsin farm prices – hay highs, corn lows 


– UWM architecture students envision a lakefront sports hall of fame. See their concepts.


– Milwaukee’s $100K club: ZIP codes that require a six-figure salary to afford a home


– His secret out, former UW-La Crosse chancellor is ready to share backstory

– 10 UW-Madison profs share their favorite books of 2023


– For the first time in a century, martens have been spotted on Lake Superior’s Madeline Island

– DNR’s Green Tier Program welcomes new legacy communities 


– Turkish Kitchen fires fresh Middle Eastern flavors on Monroe


– New research finds Black patients less likely to receive home health care after hospitalization

– How did the Dobbs decision affect the birth rate in Wisconsin?


– Florence lumber company responds to DOL investigation


– Large downtown site listed for sale after condo plans don’t proceed


– Milwaukee airport flights down since 2019, but carriers recently added these routes


– Incoming Milwaukee health building could have solar panels


<i>See these and other press releases: </i>

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