AI a consistent theme for honored professor

By Jim Massey, Freelance writer

Guilherme Rosa didn’t really know the magnitude of the award he was receiving when he was told he was being honored with a Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professorship by UW–Madison.

Guilherme Rosa

“(Department Chair Kent Weigel) told me it is one of the highest awards that the university gives, campus-wide,” Rosa says. “We compete within the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences with faculty in areas such as bacteriology, genetics, biochemistry, etc., and then across other schools and colleges within UW–Madison, so it’s nice the university can recognize agriculture and livestock production. It’s quite an honor.”

There are many ‘Vilas’ awards, such as early career, mid-career and Vilas Associate, and the Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professorship is perhaps the most prestigious. Rosa is the first Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor within the Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences. 

He also received the Vilas Associate Award and the Vilas Faculty Mid-Career Investigator Award earlier in his career, among other honors. 

Rosa, a native of Brazil, is a professor in the Animal and Dairy Sciences Department with an affiliate appointment in the Department of Biostatistics and Medical Informatics. His work involves teaching courses and conducting research on statistical and computational tools for analyzing livestock data, including beef and dairy cattle, swine, poultry and other species. 

He joined the UW–Madison faculty in 2006 after obtaining a master’s degree in animal sciences from Sao Paolo State University (UNESP) and his Ph.D. in statistics and agricultural experimentation from the University of Sao Paolo in Piracicaba, Brazil. He began his professional career as a faculty member at UNESP before relocating to the U.S. as an assistant professor at Michigan State University from 2002 to 2006. As a Ph.D. student in Brazil, he spent 18 months on the UW–Madison campus as a visiting scholar.

Even as an undergrad student, Rosa knew he wanted to use data analysis applied to livestock production, especially in genetics and management. When he arrived in Madison in 2006, the most important thing happening in quantitative genetics was the use of genomic information in the selection of livestock. He spent most of his first five years on campus working on that issue.

More recently Rosa has been working on research related to precision livestock and digital tools. He describes this work as tools such as cameras and machine-learning algorithms to watch animals individually to monitor their growth, development and behavior. Applications of such tools include optimal nutrition management of livestock and early detection of diseases, improving the overall welfare of animals.

Guilherme Rosa’s research is focused on all types of livestock, including beef animals.

“It is called precision because we are able to work at the animal level and not only the group level,” he says. “The research helps make data-driven decisions on management of livestock to improve the welfare and productivity of animals.” 

Rosa says it is somewhat ironic that his early work at the UW was on artificial insemination in livestock, known as AI, and his more recent work is on artificial intelligence, also known as AI.

“So I’ve kind of always been working in AI, just different variations,” he says.

The Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professorship recognizes UW–Madison faculty members whose distinguished scholarship has advanced the confines of knowledge, and whose excellence also includes teaching or service. Faculty members receiving this award keep the Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professorship title for the duration of their careers.

The VDAP provides $75,000 in flexible funding as a one-time award. As Rosa describes it, flexible funding means the money can be used however Rosa determines within his research program.

“I can use it to pay for publication costs or to go to conferences or for salary for a grad student or post-doctoral fellow,” he says. “There are things you can do with flexible funding that you cannot do with money from other sources. For example, if you write a grant and say you need a computer to run the project, the computer can only be used for that project. When you have flexible funds, you can buy for example a computer for general use in your lab, or you may run a small trial or test a new equipment to obtain preliminary data to support a future federally-funded grant proposal.”

The list of Rosa’s accomplishments at UW–Madison is long, with 250-plus peer-reviewed articles and an average of 13 journal publications per year over the last 15 years. He has been recognized as an invited speaker and session chair at numerous international scientific meetings over the years. He has secured external grants totaling more than $14 million to support his research programs.

Rosa also teaches two undergraduate-level animal genetics courses as well as a three-credit graduate course in quantitative genetics. 

His instructional accomplishments include 17 domestic short courses offered at universities throughout the U.S. and 52 international short courses offered in 11 countries. In addition, he has lectured in 18 team-taught workshops across the U.S. and abroad.

Guilherme Rosa is a widely respected professor in the Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences who has authored more than 250 refereed papers in scientific journals and secured external grants of more than $14 million to support his research programs. 

When asked to name the countries where he has offered short courses and workshops, Rosa listed several countries in South America, Western Europe, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Croatia, China, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand. 

Rosa says he is also proud of the graduate students and post-doctoral fellows he has helped train over the years, and noted that many of them now hold important positions in both academia and industry. 

In his letter nominating Rosa for the Vilas award, Weigel noted Rosa’s excellence in “research, teaching and service,” saying he has an “unwavering commitment to advancing knowledge in statistical genetics, genomics and machine learning.” Rosa’s work in the context of livestock production “sets him apart as a distinguished academic,” Weigel wrote.

“The field of precision livestock farming has emerged rapidly, and due in large part to the work of Professor Rosa and his trainees and collaborators, UW–Madison is recognized as a leader in this subject area,” Weigel continued. “Many land-grant universities would love to vault to the head of the pack by recruiting Professor Roma to anchor their precision livestock farming program.”

Rosa, 55, says he loves what he is doing and looks forward to new research projects and teaching activities into the foreseeable future – at UW–Madison. 

“I’m very excited about the research that is happening now in precision livestock farming and artificial intelligence, and my teaching is taking me everywhere in the world,” he says.   

While he doesn’t have an Extension appointment, Rosa says his research and teaching help keep him connected to the livestock industry through research collaborations, conferences, trainings, etc. For example, corporate partners and associations of producers, such as nutrition and breeding companies, use his research discoveries to improve their animal operations, and such findings are also conveyed to farmers by Extension cooperators.

The Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professorships are funded through the generosity of William F. Vilas Estate. Funding to support the appointments comes through research and sponsored programs. The professorships are managed by the Office of the Provost.During his free time, Rosa enjoys outdoor activities such as fishing and hiking with his wife and two sons. And in the tradition of Brazil, Rosa says he loves grilling for family and friends.