University of Wisconsin–Madison

Harvesting Ideas and Fruit with Amaya Atucha

Professor Atucha

In a lab filled with test tubes and microscopes the last thing one may expect to see are grape seeds and cranberry vines. However, this is necessary as Amaya Atucha and her team are studying the cold hardiness of fruit crops to better understand fruit crop physiology and production. Atucha serves in three main roles: an assistant professor in the department of Horticulture, a Fruit Crop Specialist for UW-Extension, and the Gottschalk Chair for cranberry research. Needless to say Atucha is well-versed in the field of fruit crop production, helping to improve the production practices of fruit crops across the state of Wisconsin.

How does the Wisconsin Idea animate your work? As a state specialist with UW Extension my work is basically the implementation of the Wisconsin Idea, in that I conduct research and interpret research from other scholars to help fruit growers across the state. Being part of extension has given me the opportunity to experience how the university can influence peoples live beyond what we see happening on campus, and that is very inspiring and gratifying at the same time.

How has your research and teaching path changed the way you think about Wisconsin and the world? My interaction with colleagues and scientists around the world has given me a broader perspective of the challenges and advantages others face in their work. As an international scholar, moving to Wisconsin has allowed me to experience a completely different culture, and has definitely changed my vision on the role universities can play in their local communities.

One of Amaya's research assistants uses a microscope and camera attached to the microscope to observe the cranberry plantHow does your research tell a larger story about Wisconsin and the world? My research program focuses on fruit crop physiology and production of deciduous fruit crops; with cranberries being one of the main fruit crops I study. Wisconsin is the top producer of cranberries in the world, and UW-Madison is the place where most of the research on this fruit crop takes place. UW-Madison has an impressive group of researchers working on all aspects of cranberry production and we are definitely the main source of information on this crop worldwide.

Is there a fact about cranberries that tends to amuse or surprise people? Yes, that cranberries do not grow in water! Most people associate cranberry production with the images they see on the television, where the growers are harvesting the berries from a pool full of water, so people think that’s the way they grow. Cranberry beds, which are the production unit in a cranberry marsh, are flooded to harvest the fruit because it makes it easier to collect all the berries, but once the harvest is done the beds are drained.

What do you love about the University of Wisconsin-Madison? There are so many possibilities to connect and collaborate with great scientists and faculty from other disciplines around campus. To be part of a diverse community of scholars stimulate you to create innovative approaches to complex problems.

What or who inspires you? My amazing female colleagues who have successful careers and family lives.

Amaya opens small containers that contain frozen grape seeds

What has been one of your favorite courses to teach? I have a very limited teaching appointment; I teach Fruit Crop Production every other spring semester. I really enjoy teaching this class as it has an important field component where students can interact with fruit growers in the state and learn about the socioeconomic implication fruit production has in the state of Wisconsin.

What are three books that have influenced you? Women Who Run With Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes; The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben; When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Atucha earned her B.S. in horticulture from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso (Chile) and her Ph.D. in horticulture from Cornell University. She also participated in the 2015 Wisconsin Idea Seminar and served as a context expert and collaborator for the 2017 Wisconsin Idea Seminar.


Hello, Wisconsin! Stories of the Wisconsin Idea is a profile series that highlights the remarkable ways Wisconsin Idea Seminar alumni, collaborators, and others are animated by the Wisconsin Idea on and off campus.