Focus: Leading research half the world away

International students take a break from their research, in a greenhouse at UNL’s West Central Research and Extension Center in North Platte. Kneeling in front are Milos Zaric of Serbia and Arthur Duarte of Brazil. Standing are Ana Gomes and Daniel de Araujo Doretto of Brazil, and Barbara Vukoja and Milan Brankov of Serbia

Six students embody the partnership between Serbia, Brazil and the University of Nebraska.

Milos Zaric, from Serbia, called it “beneficial in both directions.” The students work under Greg Kruger, associate professor at the university’s West Central Research and Extension Center in North Platte.

Kruger has been to Serbia once. That is when he met Milos, who was a student at the University of Belgrade at the time. Kruger said he hopes to return to Serbia soon.

Zaric interned with Kruger in 2015. In August of last year, he returned to WCREC to work on a masters degree in pesticide application technology.

Kruger also visits Brazil once or twice a year, where UNL has established a partnership for weed control research. The fact that the seasons are opposite in Brazil is “really handy,” Kruger said.

“When we get ideas we can choose which location is more suitable, depending on the time of year. It really speeds things up,” he said.

Zaric is joined by Barbara Vukoja and Milan Brankov from Serbia and three interns from Brazil: Ana Gomes, Daniel de Araujo Doretto and Arthur Duarte.

De Araujo Doretto said that, because of connections some of the professors have with Kruger, “We already know Nebraska before we come here.”

Each intern has a greenhouse or field project and in December they will represent their findings through posters at the North Central Weed Science Society annual meeting.

What sets Milan apart is that he has a Ph.D. in weed science and is on a six-month leave from his employment with the Maize (corn) Research Institute in Serbia. Milan’s half-year experience at WCREC is funded by the Serbia Ministry of Science.

“I will go back,” to Serbia in July, “but I would like to come again,” he said.

Vukoja interned with Kruger in 2017. She completed her bachelor’s degree in Serbia and came back in September of last year to work at WCREC. She plans to start a masters degree program here in August. She said she does not know how long she will be here, maybe several years.

Vukoja said part of their research focuses on the how spray additives and spray nozzles affect droplet size, and how much the resulting spray is affected by wind.

Zaric added, “It’s windy every day,” in Nebraska. Although Serbia has hot summers and cold winters, the wind doesn’t blow as much.

Duarte said part of the terrain in his state of Minas Garais, Brazil, is similar to the Great Plains, but without the weather extremes and “without the tornadoes.”

Snow was a big thing for the Brazilian students to get used to; it rarely snows there except in the hill country at the southern tip.

There are a number of differences and similarities between cultures, but Vukoja said more than anything else, the people have helped them adjust and enjoy their time here. People generally are kind and “want to help us,” she said.

She said their prior understanding of America was based largely on movies and television shows.

“They show New York, Manhattan, and Las Vegas and Los Angeles. They never show Nebraska,” she said.

The rural areas are more like the “real America” to her. She said they want to see as much as they can while they are here, because they don’t whether they will be able to return.

“It’s kind of a unique situation,” Kruger said. At WCREC they are isolated from the “big community” that exists on campus in Lincoln. As a result, they rely more on each other.

“In a lot of ways they become almost like family,” he said.

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