Our People: Raja ReddyMonday, July 25, 2016
By: Vanessa Beeson
K. Raja Reddy's goals are lofty: to find new ways to help feed the world. As a research scientist in the university's Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, he is working on achieving that goal by determining how global climate change impacts the biology of crops.
Reddy directs the Soil-Plant-Atmosphere Research facility on the university's R.R. Foil Plant Science Research Center, also known as North Farm. The facility is one of two in the nation that looks at the effects of climate change on crops in this particular way.
For Reddy, helping to feed a growing population is not a stretch. Growing up on a farm in Andhra Pradesh, India, his mother cooked three meals a day for 20 people her entire life. The Reddy family grew multiple crops including sugarcane. As one of seven children, Reddy remembers everyone pitching in at harvest time. Reddy said the family made brown sugar from sugarcane and the process was long and arduous.
"Making brown sugar required the help of our extended family. The entire process took three months, day and night. It felt like a festival," he said.
His experience growing up on a farm led him to pursue a career in agriculture. He earned bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in India, and then a grant led him to Mississippi State where his cousin, a graduate of what was then called the Department of Agronomy, was working as a scientist.
At Mississippi State, Reddy brings the world to him. As a champion of diversity, he strives to bring students and visiting scientists from all over the world to Mississippi State. Currently, he has eight graduate students from six countries including India, Iraq, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the U.S.
It's all about collaboration for Reddy. He strives to integrate teaching, research and service, and he expects his students to excel in all of those areas. While his students lead individual research projects, they must also help each other. "That way a student isn't just learning about one project; he or she is learning about eight projects or more," Reddy said.
Another reason Reddy encourages teamwork is that, oftentimes, the sheer volume of work can't be accomplished by a single individual. One current project focused on rice requires researchers to study and scan 900 plant roots in 150 hours. "We all work around the clock until the scans are complete," Reddy explained.
In some ways, Reddy's research at Mississippi State is similar to his days back in India harvesting sugarcane.