West Virginia University faculty members are working with researchers at the University of Querétaro in Mexico to develop new greenhouse technology geared toward helping small farmers in rural areas of that country.

The project will also provide unique study abroad opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students at WVU .

Victor Mucino, a professor in the College of Engineering and Mineral Resources Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, is the lead investigator on the project, which is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development under the Higher Education for Development Office. The Council for Science and Technology of the State of Querétaro is also a partner in the project.

Our ultimate goal is to increase the productivity and living standards of small-scale farmers in the Mexican states of Querétaro and Guanajuato through the development of greenhouse technology that is best suited to these rural, semiarid regions,Mucino said.

Greenhouses are widely available, but they are generic and expensive one-size-fits-all operations,he added.Our challenge is to tailor these new greenhouses to the area and to the people who will run them, to make them affordable, easy to use and environmentally friendly.

The interdisciplinary team working on the project also includes John Sneckenberger, professor emeritus of mechanical and aerospace engineering, along with William Bryan and Sven Verlinden, both professors at WVU s Davis College of Agriculture, Forestry and Consumer Sciences.

Innovations the researchers are working on include redesigning the structures and control systems for irrigation, lighting, heating, cooling, ventilation and other climate systems of the greenhouses so that they are energy efficient and easy to maintain for minimally trained staff.

We are also incorporating the use of local materials into the design to keep the technology affordable,Mucino said.Our partnership will result in the creation of 20 new greenhouses in the region and about 200 new jobs, improving the competitiveness of farmers in the area. The project may also have very beneficial implications for other rural regions of the world.

In addition, the program will boost opportunities for WVU students to study abroad.

Each summer, Mucino leads the Industrial Outreach Program, a College of Engineering and Mineral Resources study abroad program that takes undergraduate engineering students to Mexico for six weeks, where they live with Mexican families and work on engineering projects in Mexican businesses and industries alongside students from Querétaro.

Mucino and Verlinden traveled to Querétaro this October to conduct the first Workshop on Greenhouse Operation Best Practicesoffered to participants in this partnership.

Next summer, some undergraduate WVU students will be able to work on the greenhouse project. Graduate students are already becoming involved.