Kelsey Peterson

Welcome back! This week’s featured scientist is Kelsey Peterson, a graduate student in the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology studying silflowers, a native prairie plant. Kelsey is studying the domestication event of the silflowers, which is turning the wild prairie plant into a crop that farmers can grow on their farmlands. Read further to hear about how Kelsey got into researching silflowers and more.


How did you get into the work that you do?

I got into the work that I currently do through an internship with The Land Institute, a non-profit research organization in Salina, KS. At The Land Institute, there is a team of scientists developing several emerging perennial grains and oilseeds such as silflower, kernza, perennial sorghum, and perennial rice. They also study the ecology of such planting systems. The bridging of ecology, crop breeding, and the very unique use of a prairie plant for things like soil health had me hooked. That’s when I knew I had found my science niche!

What is one of your favorite aspects of your work? What is the most challenging?

My favorite aspect of work is interacting with all kinds of people. While working with Silflower, I’ve engaged with scientists, economists, entrepreneurs, farm owners, restaurants, and even a company installing solar panels in Minnesota. All kinds of disciplines are interested in new plants and innovative food products and I get to learn all about their work! 

The most challenging aspect of work has to be research timelines. Sometimes, it can take 4 years to allow plants to grow and insects to eat them and data to be collected. Waiting for years to test your hypotheses is difficult and requires good planning and patience. Sometimes, I wish plants would grow faster.

If you could study any one topic or idea, and money/time/equipment/ were not an issue, what would you study?

I would study how we can make funding of scientific studies more equitable.

Outside of your scientific studies, what other subjects or interests do you enjoy?

I have always been interested in food system change. As humans have developed new ways to grow our food, we’ve always lagged in our understanding of all the ways our use of landscapes impacts us. That’s changing. Inequitable land ownership, biodiversity loss, and soil degradation are just a few of the consequences of our modern food system and are all intertwined. I am really passionate about becoming educated and impactful in our work to find better ways to grow and distribute food.

What is a fun fact that few people would guess about you?

I have an identical twin sister who lives in Houston, TX. She’s in medical school!

Header Photo by Kelsey Peterson