David Schmale, associate professor in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, was named one of Popular Science magazine’s 2013 Brilliant Ten for the current October issue.
The prestigious award credited to the top innovative minds in science and engineering was given for his research using drones to study atmospheric microorganisms.
Schmale, who originally is from California, teaches Mysterious Mushroom, Malicious Molds in the department of Plant Pathology, Physiology and Weed Science.
The Collegiate Times got a chance to sit down with Dr. Schmale to talk with him about his award and what it means for his academic career.
What was your dream job as a kid?
I always thought I was going to be a medical doctor. In fact, I started my track at UC Davis on a pre-med track, and then I started taking these pretty hardcore PChem/OChem courses that were pretty cutthroat, and I started feeling like this wasn’t right for me.
What was your inspiration behind researching this particular type of science?
I got a job working in a plant pathology laboratory as an undergrad as a sophomore — just watering plants, making media, and I got really excited about it.
I got my first exposure to fungi and their impact on plant diseases, and the rest is history. I decided that that was going to be my future. Forget pre-med, I was going to be a plant doctor not a medical doctor.
Generally, explain your work and research, in particular the work that won you the magazine spot.
My research is really split into two different veins. One vein involves mycotoxicology and the other is aerobiology, which involves the flow of life in the atmosphere.
Both of these actually intersect through our use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or UAVs to study microbial life in the atmosphere. So some of the microorganisms that we look at in terms of their transport can not only cause diseases, but they can also produce toxins that can contaminate the food supply.
So here we have both of those veins being brought together in a major artery, if you will. The common link (is) atmospheric transport, (which involves) our use of unmanned systems or drones to study microbial life, their application to crop biosecurity, ultimately human and domestic animal health and our more recent work to study the role of microorganisms and their ability to modulate weather.
What was your reaction when you found out you won?
It’s a pretty funny story. I got an email that I was selected as one of the Brilliant Ten… This was a Friday afternoon and we were getting ready to go on a vacation the following morning with our family back to San Diego…we were having lunch, bags were packed, we were ready to leave and of course my phone vibrates and I get an email, and the email says, ‘Congratulations, you’ve been selected as one of the Brilliant Ten.’
I was kind of stunned. I knew the nomination had been submitted, but I didn’t know obviously that I had been selected or even made the short list, so obviously we were pretty excited about it. It made the vacation that much better because it was really a celebration.
There’s this interesting process of interviewing and they wanted to get the story right away and the reporter actually called me while I was on vacation in San Diego and she interviewed me over the phone for about three hours. I was actually stuck in the closet of the room in the vacation house where we were staying because of all the kids that were running around making all sorts of noise.
How has your life changed since being named to the list?
The day that the article came out I just decided not to answer my phone because everybody was calling and I’ve got countless emails, some that I still have to respond to from interest in the work…my friends and colleagues and local Crossfitters give me (a hard time), I guess…they like to tease me at the gym about being brilliant.
Besides recognition and honor, were there other benefits to winning the award?
There was no money associated with the award. I would just say it’s pretty humbling, you know. To date, it certainly has been the biggest scholastic honor that I’ve received. To me, that’s certainly important in terms of career milestones. It was unexpected, but no I wouldn’t say that I feel like I’ve been put on a pedestal or something. I certainly was excited to receive the recognition and that’s kind of validation that we are doing really important work.