Entomologist leaves humid climates behind for semi-arid plains

The New Year has brought a new face to the Panhandle Research Extension and Education Center in Scottsbluff with Dr. Pin-Chu Lai, entomologist and Nebraska Extension specialist.

Lai has extensive research training in entomology and applied ecology. Her graduate studies thesis focused on thrips, an insect pest serving as vectors of a plant virus in peanuts at the University of Georgia. 

“I’ve always been interested in insect vectors and their interactions with pathogens and plant hosts. As an undergraduate, I sought opportunities to work on insect vectors of plant diseases,” she said. The initiative eventually led her to integrated pest management research. Lai’s experience in integrated pest management included research and extension work in peanuts as a row crop in graduate school and in vegetable crops at Cornell University as a postdoctoral associate.  

Lai replaced Dr. Jeff Bradshaw as the Center’s entomologist. He has been helping her get acclimated to the position, and they have had discussions on the wheat stem sawfly, a major pest for wheat growers in the Panhandle. Along with thrips in dry beans, a potential pest group that has limited information in the region. She has also been invited to join a student committee with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Entomology Department studying the wheat curl mite. 

“Along with research, I’m also excited about the Extension part,” Lai said. “I’m passionate about translating my applied research to practical management strategies for growers and stakeholders and helping them grow better crops. I’ve already been out at extension meetings and look forward to attending other meetings and events to interact with growers. It is my ultimate goal to help growers manage insect pests efficiently while supporting sustainable agriculture.” 

Lai is from Taiwan, and in 2013, she received her B.Sc. in Entomology at the National Taiwan University in Taipei City, Taiwan. In 2015, she was awarded her M.Sc. in Entomology at the University of Georgia, in Athens, Ga., and in 2021, Lai was awarded her Ph.D. in Entomology at the University of Georgia, Athens, Ga.

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