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Summer Research Experience: Student Blog

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Improving Forest Change Modeling, One Parameter at a Time

August 2, 2016, by Patrick McKenzie
Alongside uncertainty about the stability of future climate conditions comes uncertainty about future landscapes: Where will our forests be in 200 years? Forest landscape models have been designed to address this. Forest landscape models take small-scale ecological phenomena and apply them across large spatial and/or temporal scales. LANDIS-II (“LANdscape DIsturbance and Succession”) is a forest landscape model that consists of a core program with several extensions that are downloaded separately and can be individually activated to simulate various ecological processes. Together with its...Read more >

Life on the Edge

August 1, 2016, by Ian Smith
Despite being conducted in rural Petersham, Massachusetts, the inspiration for my summer research project comes from patterns observed in urban environments. We live in a growing world in which cities are expanding, both in terms of population and geography. As cities sprawl outwards, forested regions, such as New England, are converted into fragmented landscapes where the forest is interrupted by human land use. Replacing forests with something else can have significant impacts on the carbon cycle as forests play a key role in removing and storing atmospheric carbon. However, the data that I...Read more >

The Great Coarse Woody Adventure

July 31, 2016, by Rebecca Sparks
Amid the rolling hills and towering trees of Petersham, Massachusetts, this summer I’ve had the opportunity to research carbon storage dynamics in Harvard Forest. At a time when humans are releasing unprecedented levels of carbon into the atmosphere, a comprehensive understanding of carbon dynamics is more important than ever. While many consequences of this change are known, there is still uncertainty regarding ecosystems’ response to climate change. We need to understand how ecosystems handle carbon now so that we can predict how those dynamics might change as we alter the composition of...Read more >

Scratch and Sniff: A Lesson in Plant Identification

July 30, 2016, by Alice Linder
When I was quite young, my parents would page through picture books with me, pointing out the different animals in the illustrations. Once I noticed an animal or shape I’d seen before, I insisted (in the way only a 2-year-old can) that we look through all of the other books to find that same animal. As we found each appearance in turn, I excitedly shouted “Same! Same!” and started the cycle anew with the next animal I recognized. Fast forward to the summer of 2016, and the skills I honed as an annoyingly curious 2-year-old have proved quite useful. I’ve mainly been working out in the field...Read more >

Isn't that Neat?!

July 29, 2016, by Nathan Stephansky
The only constant is change, so I’ve heard. Therefore, life is not about changing the future to attain some desirable outcome, which can be difficult, perhaps impossible, in our ever-changing world. Rather, life is about understanding the present to predict the future to guide us through the unknown. With the changing climate, predicting how ecosystems around the world will respond to increases in temperature, atmospheric carbon, and more unpredictable weather patterns is essential in preparing for our future. With predicted increases of drought in New England, my team at Harvard Forest is...Read more >

Dealing with (Computer) Bugs in the Forest

July 28, 2016, by Moe Pwint Phyu
Imagine you are a scientist with amazing data sets trying to make a groundbreaking discovery. But first, you need to replicate the way that an earlier scientist analyzed data sets for you to contextualize the experiment. And you painstakingly replicate every step of the whole analysis, but then you run into bug after bug in your code. You finally figure out that you missed a crucial step in the data manipulations leading up to the statistical tests—because the earlier scientist forgot to mention it in their methods. My mentors, Barbara Lerner and Emery Boose, try to tackle this problem by...Read more >

The Invasion of Garlic Mustard Plants: The Aliens of Nature

July 27, 2016, by Sydney-Alyce Bourget
Gray slimy skin, large head, and dark piercing black eyes are some features that compose the classic science fiction alien. In typical science fiction fashion, these aliens come from outer space and invade the Earth. Their superior technology and intellect provide them with a competitive advantage over the human race allowing them to monopolize Earth’s precious resources, while annihilating its inhabitants from existence. Although an alien invasion has not occurred in real life, the concept of foreign organisms invading an area is not limited to the world of science fiction. In fact, these...Read more >

Knowing the Dirt on Soil Microbial Respiration

July 26, 2016, by Rebeca Bonilla
I’ve been avoiding this for so long. No matter how cool I think this project is and no matter how much I love experimenting on these tiny organisms, I keep it hidden from her. She has no idea what I’m doing. I know that she'll find out eventually, but for now I've been keeping it hushed up. She knows I’m in the boonies doing scientific research for Harvard Forest under the mentorship of Lauren Alteio and Jeffrey Blanchard, but she doesn’t know I’m working on the effects of climate change on microbial communities in the soil. Sure, it sounds super science-y and complicated, but once I explain...Read more >

Blowing Bubbles for the Sake of Science

July 22, 2016, by Kate Anstreicher
Preview Haiku: (You will understand it by the end of my blog post!) Air-Seeding Threshold: pressure bomb, micropipette… darn. Open vessel. You may see a trend in our 2016 blog post introductions: most students at the Harvard Forest this summer are studying the impact of climate change on the New England forest system. But as you have likely also noticed, our projects diverge from there in a multitude of ways. Some budding scientists collect jars of soil or tree cores. Others work inside with computers, people, or even paint. Regardless of material, we manage to use science, communication and...Read more >

How do I love thee, soil? Let me count thy roots!

July 22, 2016, by Sarah Goldsmith
The next time you find yourself in a hemlock forest, take moment to notice what is around you. Take your gaze skyward to the thick and verdant canopy or downwards to the dim and dappled light that dances in playful patterns across the thick layer of needles carpeting the forest floor. Close your eyes and listen for the myriad of birds and insects that call this forest home or take a deep breath and inhale the rich and distinctive smell of the forest-- the light scent of newly grown needles highlighting the deeper earthy smell of the soil. It is perhaps one of my favorite scenes to come across...Read more >

Field Experiments: The Struggle is Real

July 20, 2016, by Alex Salinas
One of the first things that struck me on my way to Harvard Forest from the Boston airport was the vivid scenery. Coming from the heart of Texas, I couldn’t believe all the lush forests and lakes that surrounded me. It was all so surreal that it took me a few hours to convince myself I was actually here. What I was excited for most was the fact that for the next 11 weeks I would get to spend almost every day outside in this beautiful scenery doing field research! Little did I know at the time, however, Mother Nature was not going to let my research proceed as smoothly as I was expecting. One...Read more >

Data is Eating Ecology: How We Make Sense of It

July 19, 2016, by Siqing "Alex" Liu
Marc Andreessen famously proclaimed that “software is eating the world,” and to me, data is certainly eating up ecology. Andreessen meant that software is fundamentally changing how companies and economies work, and that the incumbents will be taken over by software companies. Though not a direct analogy, data is changing ecology by impacting every stage of the scientific enterprise, from hypothesis formation to conclusion. This explosion of data comes from multiple sources, from the proliferation of cheap sensors to the better detail and scope of satellite coverage. This flood of data has...Read more >

Tree Rings, Disturbance, and Life under the Scope

July 12, 2016, by Melinda Paduani of the Disturbance Dynamics Duo
Consider the major events that you have experienced throughout your life. Some people keep mementos and souvenirs to remember the places they have been to or take photos to look back at what they saw; others only have their memories. Trees, on the other hand, “write their stories” in their rings. The patterns that they form serve as a visual history of extreme weather, insect infestations, growth cycles, and many other details that are revealed upon closer inspection. I will admit to being the type of person who believed that science was confined to carefully outlined experimental methods and...Read more >

Climate Change Characters

July 11, 2016, by Karina Agbisit
Think of the most negative and dismissive response to the question of whether climate change is happening. Some things that come to mind are probably yelling, denying, references to private property rights, and bashing left-leaning politicians. Now think of the most positive and affirmative response to the same question—dedication to reducing reliance on fossil fuels, references to scientific studies, and encouraging elected officials to take action now. These two very different set of views on climate make up the ends of a spectrum of American beliefs on climate. The study Climate Change in...Read more >

I Dream of Gmail

July 11, 2016, by Kate Rawson
Dreaming of email, surveys, and spreadsheets.
Which tool is the most important for ecological research? A. Plant identification sheet B. Soil corer C. Microscope D. Map and Compass E. Statistical analysis software What if I told you that the correct answer was F: none of the above and that really, the most important thing for ecological research was a properly functioning email account? Would you believe me? While this may not be true for every project (ecological research is a wide field with a large variety of techniques used to investigate hypotheses) it is certainly true for the project that I am working on this summer. This summer,...Read more >

Coding the Future (of Ants)

July 8, 2016, by Anna Calderon
What if you could see into the future? Perhaps you are interested in knowing where your favorite animal or plant may be located fifty or one hundred years from now. It might be difficult to imagine what the world would look like, but species distribution models attempt to do just that. A species distribution model (SDM) is a method used to produce maps that attempt to predict where a species might occur in the future based on environmental factors that govern its current location. SDMs are powerful tools which have a wide range of applications: for conservation purposes, to predict where...Read more >

Ecology Technology: Where Computer Science and Climate Change Collide

July 7, 2016, by Lauren Ebels
In a time when unpredictable weather events like droughts and floods are on the rise and water is thought to be “the next oil” of the world, understanding water reserves in forests is extremely relevant. Our project at Harvard Forest focuses on transpiration—the process of water movement through plants—and strategies for effective long term observation of overall forest health. While there are a variety of creative methods for gathering information on transpiration and forest health, most of them are implemented on a tree-to-tree basis, or are tedious at the very best. Our project develops...Read more >

Grazing Our Problems Away: How Cows Can Put New England’s Conservation Issues Out to Pasture

July 6, 2016, by Anna Mayrand
Looking at New England’s forests today, it’s almost hard to believe that at one point, most of the land was open fields. In the 1880’s, land was cleared out by settlers to make fields for grazing and farming. The land has since recovered from its deforestation with 80% of the land now being dominated by forest. However, this gives rise to a new problem: the loss of open fields to growing forests. But wait, how can reforestation be a bad thing? Why not let the landscape return to its original state? Turns out in all the time these open fields were maintained, ecosystems adapted and new fauna...Read more >

From the Ground Up: What’s Going On With Young Hemlocks?

June 28, 2016, by Molly Wieringa
The first thing I would have anyone know about me is that I’m in love with the color green—the green of leaves and grasses and the edge of the sunset. It’s a color with a thousand shades and tints, a color that dances with light and seems strangely alien in any setting but the natural one. Luckily, there’s a lot of green in the woods, so for me a summer at the Harvard Forest falls somewhere on the spectrum between ‘this is just too cool to be real’ and ‘I get to spend the whole day outside?!?’ Fortunately, it is real, and I do get to spend about half my days out among the trees, investigating...Read more >

Change is Underfoot

June 27, 2016, by Megan Wilcots
With all the talk of climate change and increased CO 2 emissions wreaking havoc on the globe’s ecosystems, you might think that all the carbon we’re emitting is going straight into the atmosphere, condemning us to a sticky, sweaty future. But, in fact, the global climate has a secret, and it’s beneath your feet. Global soils contain more carbon than what is stored in the atmosphere and plants, and they play an important role in the amount of carbon being released into the atmosphere. With warming and precipitation expected to increase in many parts of the world, soils’ response to these new...Read more >

What Has Transpired Here? Automating Sap Flow Measurements to Track Forest Health

June 23, 2016, by Alex Widstrand
One of the most direct ways to track forest health is through water content – and in a forest, water is everywhere , from the soil, to the trunks, to the leaves and even the air. Tree sap itself is comprised of at least 90% water. But when water is everywhere, measuring it reliably gets tricky. Since most of the water in a tree will flow through the trunk at some point, measuring a tree’s sap flow is a good way to estimate how much water there is – and, therefore, how healthy the tree is. In one day, a single large tree is capable of drawing up to 100 gallons of water from the soil. One...Read more >

Soil Science: Sifting, Sampling, and CO2

June 22, 2016, by Katie Polik
When most people think of greenhouse gases they think of smoke stacks, car exhaust, and fossil fuels. These all lead to more carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) entering the atmosphere, driving climate change. But there’s another source of CO 2 doesn’t come to mind quite as readily, and it’s right beneath your feet: soil. Soil isn’t all bad news. As plants grow, they store carbon from the atmosphere. Their fallen branches and leaves decompose, moving that carbon into the soil. In fact, soils end up storing the most organic carbon in the terrestrial ecosystem. This carbon eventually cycles back into the...Read more >

Drawing Conclusions: The Art of Forests over Time

June 14, 2016, by Anna Guerrero
Think of your favorite tree. Is it a sprawling red oak, dominating the landscape? Perhaps it is an elegant quaking aspen, shaking in the summer breeze. Can you tell me how old it is? Can you tell me the history of the surrounding trees and the land? Can you say how it will look in 10 years? 50 years? 250 years? Difficult as it may seem, there are researchers here at the Harvard Forest asking these very questions, and the answers are never as straightforward as you’d think. Hurricanes, disease, insects, farming, frosts, drought, logging, tornadoes, and other types of disturbance shape and...Read more >

East Coast Dreamin’: Six or Eight Legs at a Time

August 4, 2015, by Cody Raiza
Arriving to Harvard Forest from drought stricken California, I could have never imagined a place with so much water and lush green vegetation; precipitation so thick that the trees "rain" for hours after warm summer showers, rivers hugging every winding country road, and lakes bursting at the seams. New England is a magical place where no one must consider turning their fluffy turf grass yard into a succulent garden or rockscape in response to the west coast drought. Looking out a car window across a sprawling valley, one tries to comprehend how many hundreds of metric tons these trees occupy...Read more >

Some Genes Like It Hot

August 3, 2015, by Josia DeChiara
Biology is a 3D puzzle; an infinitely large logic game with the universe, made up of numerous rings, bars, and strings inexplicably intertwined. A scientist attempts to make sense of these knots, looking for patterns in the pathways. This summer, I have been trying to trace these connections in strings of DNA in hopes of uncovering the story of soil life after decades of experimentally-induced warming. In October of 2011, soil cores were taken from each of the three soil warming experiments at the Harvard Forest and immediately immersed in a bath of ethanol and dry ice. This precious, mad-...Read more >

How to roll your R’s like a scientist! / Aprendiendo la R científica

August 2, 2015, by Mayra Rodríguez-González
[The English version of this post is followed by a Spanish version, also written by Mayra.] In a world where both natural and human driven disturbances have caused an array of changes in the landscape, we would expect that land-use and land-cover change could become either an asset or a threat to our environment. Here at the Harvard Forest the landscape simulation crew has joined forces to predict land-use change effects on the ecosystem and its services. These services are benefits obtained from ecosystems that provide people with necessities such as fresh water, food and fuel. Understanding...Read more >

Ecological Tipping Points and Warning Signs

July 30, 2015, by Nathan Justice
It takes a very special kind of person to be an ecologist. They must be tenacious, inquisitive, and most importantly, they must demonstrate unyielding optimism. A common goal amongst ecological scientists is to better understand the world around us, and to capitalize on this knowledge in order to facilitate Nature's narrative with minimal human interruption. Ecology, along with sibling-branches like conservation biology, wildlife biology, and forestry, have a tendency to feel like an uphill battle in pursuit of this goal. Despite the appearance of ecological processes progressing at a...Read more >

Brutally Honest with Ants: "That’s not your color"

July 29, 2015, by Roxanne Hoorn
Integration of the arts into ecology research seems like an idea whose time has finally come. Unfortunately, nature doesn't seem eager to embrace this expressive movement in the form incorporated in my research: the painting of ants. Nevertheless, as part of our summer project, my research partner Cody Raiza and I would find a colony of our ant genus of choice and hunker down for a few hours of tedious ant-butt painting. Perhaps I should start by explaining why we painted the ants, or why we even care about ants at all. People don't seem to think much about ants and when we do, we're usually...Read more >

Some Important Small Things

July 27, 2015, by Julia Fisher
Mass extinction. Climate Change. Drought. Buzzwords that the media has been shouting out to the world with dire predictions of impending doom. Words that seem too large and far away to fit into our daily lives. My study at the Harvard Forest aims to shed light on all of these things, beginning at a scale too small to see without the aid of a microscope. Since I was a little girl, I have stood in the woods and listened to the trees whisper to each other, branches gently swaying and leaves trembling in the breeze. Now I imagine that I hear water, flowing water, water traveling up from the earth...Read more >

Getting to the Bottom of Paleoecology

July 24, 2015, by Megan Shadley
This summer I have been inducted into a prestigious group on the Harvard Forest grounds known as Club Paleo. The lucky few of us that work in the paleoecology lab attempt to decode climate and forest ecology conditions from thousands of years ago in order to infer how changes in the past could help predict how climate will change in the future. This research is conducted by gathering quantitative data from sediment cores extracted from lakes and ponds throughout New England. With my mentor Wyatt Oswald and researcher Elaine Doughty, this summer I have helped with the extraction of two new...Read more >

Fun in a Warming Forest

July 23, 2015, by Alana Thurston
Let's play a word association game: Climate change. Rising waters, acidifying oceans, species migration and extinction, extreme weather, and an ever-warming climate. Yes, all of these things and more. And while these are all of global concern, how about the impacts of climate change on a smaller, more regional level? Here at Harvard Forest, we're asking exactly that. Currently, Harvard Forest has three soil warming experiments running, each of which has cables installed under the soil to warm the plots 5 degrees Celsius above ambient temperature in an attempt to measure how a warmer climate...Read more >

Ant-ticipating Change: As forests change, will ants?

July 21, 2015, by Tess McCabe
Aphaenogaster ant nest
Ants work hard. In fact, a single leafcutter colony can consume more than the average cow . But different ants work hard in different ways. Some will move seeds around, letting plants grow in new areas. Some will build vast underground tunnels that aerate the soil. Different kind of ants are useful. That's where I come in. I do two things. I figure out what ants we're working with, and I figure out what ants we will be working with. Here at Harvard Forest and at Black Rock Forest , I am looking at how the numbers and types of species of ant has changed over time, and how they will change. Our...Read more >

Balancing Conservation and Agriculture at the Farm

July 8, 2015, by Brittany Cavazos
This summer, my project is a bit different than most of the other students’ here. While the general idea of conservation is about saving the forest, my project involves protecting open areas, like pastures – or, in this case, an old golf course of the Petersham Country Club. The thing is, most of Massachusetts has been reforested over the last century or so and with it, the decline of species that are only present around forest edges or open areas. Additionally, there is the ever present need for pastures for agriculture. So the idea for my project centers on if we can conserve these open...Read more >

No Such Thing As Too Much Garlic? Think Again!

July 6, 2015, by Natalie Gonzalez
One of the first things my driver told me on my way to Harvard Forest from the Boston airport was that Massachusetts was in the middle of a drought. Now I thought this was odd because, looking out of my window, I saw lakes sitting on both sides of the road. Being from California I expected a slightly different view of the city when the word "drought" was used. For the rest of the summer I would experience large amounts of cold rain, humidity, thunderstorms, high temperatures, and frizz....sometimes all in the same day (except for the frizz, that's become an everyday problem). "They call this...Read more >

Katrina and the Hurricane: Telling a story with dead wood

July 3, 2015, by Katrina Fernald
Harvard Forest is a place with history. Our home for the summer was originally built in the 1700's, on our second day, we visited a 400-year-old black gum tree, and the bowls in our kitchen probably date from the end of the Stone Age. Harvard has owned this patch of forest in Petersham, Massachusetts since 1907, and the amount of research and data that has accumulated since then is immense. I first began to understand the importance of this impressive history on two field days last week to Pisgah State Park in Winchester, New Hampshire. An average day here at the Forest for me most often...Read more >

Bienvenue à la Forêt Harvard

June 26, 2015, by Harry Stone
"You're bringing leaves and stem samples across the border?" the CPB (Customs and Border Patrol) Agent asks quizzically at our car. How to respond in a short answer? "For ecological research" was the meek reply we settled on, and with a grunt the agent pulled us aside for further questioning. This interaction occurred yesterday on my return trip from the University of Montreal Laurentides field station in Saint-Hippolyte about an hour and a half north of Montreal. For some further background information, I had spend the last week in Quebec collecting samples from roughly 160 individual plants...Read more >

Seeing Forrest through the Trees

June 24, 2015, by Forrest Lewis
Forrest Lewis and Evan Goldman at Harvard Forest
I've heard a lot of puns, jokes, and quips since starting my research internship at the Harvard Forest last month. But I guess when your parents name you after a bohemian misspelling of a New England biome, you get what you deserve. So whether it was destiny, free will, or "Popular Baby Names 1995" that brought me here, I've come to love my time at the Harvard Forest. To rewind a bit, the Harvard Forest (spelled with only one 'r') is actually what it sounds like—a forest, owned by Harvard University, with trees, plants, moose, and everything else characteristic of the Massachusetts wilderness...Read more >

EEcology

August 15, 2014, by Bruce McAlister
I am not a scientist; I am an engineer. . . . Which makes my employment at an ecological research station a little odd. However, it is perfectly natural to have engineers here, it turns out - as long as you don't have too many. Scientists need specialized tools for research. Engineers are just the right people to create these tools. And so, here I am - building research equipment for scientists. Yes, I know; it doesn't get much cooler than that. My project looks at how reflected light from the canopy - which can show what the leaves are doing - changes throughout both the day and the year. I...Read more >

Impacts of Climate Change on the Rhythm of the spring in Northeast Deciduous Forests

August 10, 2014, by Ivonne Trujillo
This summer I had the opportunity to be an REU student for the Richardson Lab. It seems as if it’s the first week, and not the last week of the program. I’ve learned so much in this short period of time, and I will bring what I learned back to my university in Texas. This summer, I focused on the impacts of climate change on the rhythm of the spring in Northeast deciduous forests. I aimed to address some of the gaps that existed on the feedbacks between climate change and the seasonal cycles. I focused on leaf development for the red maple, red oak, and paper birch. Now, to characterize leaf...Read more >

Drones in the Service of Our Forests

August 4, 2014, by Sidni Frederick
If you've spent any time alive on this planet, you've probably noticed that things here work in cycles – the sun passes overhead daily, we complete one revolution around the sun every year, and the slight tilt of our planet's axis subsequently yields seasonal changes in time with these astronomical movements. The lives of plants here on earth are guided by these cycles. In deciduous forests like the ones here in Central Massachusetts, trees awaken from a long period of dormancy in the spring to push out the leaves that will allow them to conduct photosynthesis in the summer. The leaves change...Read more >

Small mammal summer

July 30, 2014, by Joel
My mentor Allyson Degrassi and I use mark and recapture methods to study small mammal populations and community dynamics in relation to hemlock decline. Degrassi is an ecologist and mammalogist who is training me in a variety of techniques that I plan to apply in future veterinary medicine work. Not only does she train and advise me on my future, she gives me new excitement for day-to-day work. When we hike through the forest at 4am (a great time to hike— I recommend it) towards our research sites, we talk about her dogs, mushrooms we spot, our favorite songs, and studies on sharks and...Read more >

Taking Time for a Look Back

July 30, 2014, by Alison Ochs
Almost ten weeks in and it feels like I've only just arrived. When I first got here, I felt like I'd have all the time in the world to finish my project, and now deadlines are approaching and it's time to crunch. I based my independent project off of the project my mentor, Ahmed Hassabelkreem, has been working on. My mentor is part of a group examining the effects of an invasive insect, the hemlock woolly adelgid, which is causing a severe decline in hemlock forests in the eastern USA. Specifically, he is looking at how this transition from hemlock to hardwood affects salamanders, which often...Read more >

Clear-cuts and carbon fluxes: observing change at Harvard Forest

July 28, 2014, by Alayna Johnson
I came to Harvard Forest with only a vague idea as to just how expansive and diverse the forests of New England are and with the intention of studying a scene that would have been commonplace here just over a hundred years ago – regenerating forests. With both climate change and deforestation being pressing global ecological issues, my lab group is utilizing a tiny fraction of New England forest to help piece together the overall relationship between climate and deforestation. In recent years, much attention has been given to the role forests may play as "carbon sinks" – helping mop up some...Read more >

Modeling photosynthesis in the canopy

July 25, 2014, by Jessica Asirwatham
Forests play a large role in the global carbon cycle. Forests uptake atmospheric carbon through photosynthesis; and release carbon back into the atmosphere through plant and microbial respiration. Statistical models have been developed to better understand gas exchange between the atmosphere and plants. These models calculate the rate of photosynthesis in leaves given the physical conditions the leaves are experiencing. What I'm developing is a model that scales up leaf-level photosynthetic rates to ecosystem-level photosynthetic rates. These models are important for predicting future rates...Read more >

Updating the Recipe Book

July 18, 2014, by Nikki Hoffler
A chef can spend years finding the right ingredients and steps to create a perfect dish. We would think she was crazy if she never wrote down the recipe to repeat her masterpiece after all that work. Yet, we don't bat an eye when scientists publish their results without explaining the data and calculations they used in enough detail to replicate and validate the results. My mentors, Barbara Lerner and Emery Boose, are working on a program that creates a kind of recipe from the code that scientists write to manipulate data. The program creates a visual representation of the code in the form of...Read more >

Too Hot for Salamanders and Newts to Trot?

July 17, 2014, by Simone Johnson
Harvard Forest is dominated by a coniferous species called Eastern Hemlock, but due to an insect pest known as the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, the hemlocks are dying. This, in turn, affects the habitat in which Red-backed salamanders and Red-spotted newts live. The changing climate also affects the habitat of these cute little creatures. Salamanders are smooth and slimy, which many people might call gross; salamanders are not gross, they are magnificent! Newts are not slimy, and they are just as magnificent! Salamanders and newts breathe through their skin (whoa!), like most amphibians, and they...Read more >

Up Close and Personal with Hemlock Forests

July 13, 2014, by Jess Robinson
As I stood looking down at a forest of green, I started to feel a welling emotion within me. Maybe a feeling of awe. Perhaps nausea due to a fear of heights. I just couldn’t help but admire the capacity a forest has to work as a single organism, similarly to the way that hundreds of bees make up an organism that is a hive. It was orientation week and we all had the chance to climb one of the research towers in order to see the forest canopy. Seeing the forest from above as I stood on a scaffold watching the wind blow the leaves so that waves moved and crashed across the canopy, I knew that...Read more >

Troubleshooting: the key to success

July 11, 2014, by Laura Figueroa
I arrived this summer with a general idea of the research I was to conduct and the environment where I would be: study climate change ecology and live in a house full of college students. This summer has proven to be so much more. I have fine-tuned my research skills in ways that I never would have expected and have made amazing friends along the way. As the first week passed I understood that I was not simply going to take measurements for a graduate student's thesis, I was also to develop my own project from beginning to end. The team I am on works with "heating chambers" which mimic the...Read more >

The soil is alive……with microorganisms

July 1, 2014, by Ada Vilches
Have you ever thought about what is under your feet? What is the ground you step on composed of? Well, no matter where you are on land, you are most likely either standing on soil or on something that rests on it. Thus, all terrestrial life is supported by soil at some level, but what really lives in it? This is precisely the question I am trying to answer this summer, and, it turns out, soils are made up of a vast multitude of organisms. As luck would have it, the ones I'm looking for are too small to be seen. This summer I am working with Dr. Jeffrey Blanchard from UMass Amherst in the...Read more >

How Far is Too Far for an Ant?

June 26, 2014, by Ariel da Cruz Reis
Everybody, at some point of their lives, has had some sort of contact with these little and fascinating beings! Of course, I am talking about ants. Ants are hard workers, some species are capable of carrying 100 times their own body weight; they are spread out all over the planet, except for Antarctica and Greenland; they represent a large portion of the biomass in many habitats, and, therefore, they consume and recycle a huge amount of organic matter, maintaining a proper nutrient cycle. It is amazing how many important roles they have and how much we know about them. However, there are...Read more >

A Day in the Life of a Junior Forester

June 25, 2014, by Joshua Alaniz
I wake up to a sun that likes to rise at 5 A.M. and doesn't let me go back to sleep. I tuck in two tattered shirts that attempt to protect me from the ocean of blackberry thorns and mosquitos that seem to be drinking DEET after their blood meal. My pants are crammed into heavy wool socks to keep the legions of ticks at bay and I seal my heavy leather boots with Duct Tape to my shins to keep all of the above out. I get up and tape up every day like Joe Frazier getting ready to battle the leviathan that is nature for the next 8 hours. I drive a pickup truck loaded with tape measures, rods that...Read more >

The Roots of the Matter

June 24, 2014, by Marisa
I showed up at Harvard Forest blissfully ignorant of all the possible diseases you can get from tromping around in the forest all day, not to mention with an admittedly cloudy understanding of the day to day realities of ecological research. Three weeks later, my paranoia-induced googling has me well-versed on the signs and symptoms of Lyme disease and Eastern equine encephalitis, and I’ve got a clearer idea of what field research is. It’s trial and error, getting lost in the woods, and too many mosquito bites to count, but it’s also the joy of a new nature sighting, the satisfaction that...Read more >

A Trip to the Harvard University Museums

June 18, 2014, by Grace Barber
Inside the Harvard Museum of Natural History, on display behind glass cases, are tip-of-the-iceberg objects. These are what more than 200,000 visitors a year come to see. They include striking displays of ornate beetles, mounted specimens of birds with brilliant feathers, ancient fossils, and hand-crafted, glass replicas of flowers and sea creatures. The quality of these objects is high, as is the rarity of many, and the caliber of the permanent, public displays bespeaks the wealth of what is not flaunted. On Tuesday, the REU students (and a couple of very fortunate proctors), were treated to...Read more >

Top Predators: What Wolves and Wolf Spiders Have in Common

June 18, 2014, by Heather Clendenin
People understand ripples: you throw a stone into the middle of a pond, and the effects of that action carry on far past where the stone broke the surface of the water. For me, studying ecology has always been somewhat analogous to watching ripples on a pond: the members of an ecosystem respond to each other through their various relationships, and what affects some members directly can carry over to indirectly affect others. At Harvard Forest, the research I'm participating in is looking at the "ripples" that may pass through food webs as climate change brings about warmer temperatures. In...Read more >

My First Lake Coring Trip

June 12, 2014, by Maria Orbay-Cerrato
Since I arrived at Harvard Forest, I've heard my mentor, Wyatt Oswald, use some variation of the phrase "when you go down into the mud, you go back in time" on various occasions. This concept, officially called "the law of superposition", hinges on the simple observation that younger layers of sediment are deposited over older layers. By looking through a microscope at samples of sediment taken from different depths of mud in a lake, my mentor and other paleoecologists can see what tree species dominated a specific area at different points in time. They do this by counting the different types...Read more >

Hugging Hemlocks

June 11, 2014, by Claudia Villar
In the early hours of most summer mornings, our team of researchers trudges through the New England forest along a well-worn path, shaded by the young, light-green leaves of the oak, maple and birch trees above us. Equipped with backpacks overloaded with gear including measuring tapes, hard hats, clipboards, and hammers, we chat about our families, our hometowns, and our career goals; our conversations are often punctuated by exclamations and discussions about the funky invertebrates and fungi we encounter along the path. As we walk, the forest thickens around us. The ground becomes...Read more >

My Research Buddy, the LI-COR 6400

June 9, 2014, by Kyle Boyd
What is a LI-COR 6400? The LI-COR 6400 (LI-6400) is a machine that allows budding scientists like me (pun intended) to study the exchange of gases between leaves and their environment. This high-tech machine allows us to learn a lot about how a plant functions. For instance, because carbon dioxide is consumed during photosynthesis, measuring the rate of carbon dioxide uptake by leaves with the LI-6400 is a good measure of the rate of photosynthesis occurring in those leaves. I am going to be using the LI-6400 almost every day for the rest of the summer, the LI-6400 will be my research buddy...Read more >

Creating A New England Forest Map

June 6, 2014, by Sofie McComb
Matthew Duveneck and Sofie McComb analyzing data in the scripting language R
The first week at Harvard Forest has passed and it already feels like I have been here for a month. There is always so much going on and so many things happening that time just flies by. Orientation was a two day whirlwind and finally on day three all the students got to meet their mentors and get to work. I am working over the summer with my mentor Matthew Duveneck, who is a post doc working with Dr. Jonathan Thompson, who is my advising professor. The project I am working on with them is the creation of a map of the New England Forest based on satellite image data, data collected by...Read more >

Debugging Ecological Research

June 6, 2014, by Luis Perez
Barbara Lerner, Luis Perez, Nikki Hoffler, and Emery Boose working
With ecology, as with an increasing number of other fields, "big data" has become an intrinsic aspect of scientific research. Ask most field scientists and, with a grunt of disapproval mixed with displeasure, you are likely to hear about all the programming and statistical analysis that has to be done to gain meaningful results. Consider t he inevitable sensor drift that occurs and the recalibration that must take place to restore validity to the data; or, imagine a flash flood, lighting strike, or simple technical failure that can lead to incorrect or unavailable sensor readings. As larger...Read more >

Initial Impressions of the Summer Ahead

June 3, 2014, by Alison Ochs
Alison Ochs standing above the canopy on the Hemlock Tower
When I first arrived at Harvard Forest, I saw green. The woods were beautiful, the trails stunning, and all I could tell was that the forest around me was unlike anything I was used to. What I didn’t see initially were the dying trees, the falling needles, and the slow decline of a once healthy hemlock forest. Yes, the maples were fine, the pines booming, even some chestnuts starting to sprout, but the hemlock was fading away. This loss and its accompanying effects on the forest ecosystem are what I am here to study. The hemlock woolly adelgid is an invasive insect that attaches to the base...Read more >

The 2014 Summer Program in Ecology has begun!

May 29, 2014, by Grace Barber
The 2014 Summer Research Students and their Mentors
The Harvard Forest was livened this week as 22 undergraduate students began the 11-week Summer Program in Ecology. These students will contribute skills, knowledge and hard work as they collaborate with scientists and professionals on projects ranging from improving the tools researchers use to document the steps in their statistical analyses to examining how climate change may indirectly affect carbon cycling by influencing the behavior of invertebrate predators. Through this experience, the students will build new friendships and knowledge and have the opportunity to refine, or redefine,...Read more >

Spotlight on Summer Students

February 14, 2014, by Clarisse Hart
Every winter, we stop to recognize recent Summer Research Program students for the incredible strides they have made using their summer data. Many students co-authored papers in 2013-2014 with their summer mentors: Jennie Sirota (REU '12) and mentors Aaron Ellison and Ben Baiser made a splash in the news with their paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences : " Organic-matter loading determines regime shifts and alternative states in an aquatic ecosystem " Lindsay Day (REU student '11 and proctor '12) was lead author for a paper in Quaternary Research with mentor Wyatt Oswald...Read more >

Alumni profile: Where are you now?

August 6, 2013
Brady Hardiman Summer Research Program '03 Mentor: Julian Hadley Project: Photosynthetic rates of Betula lenta : Effects on canopy carbon storage rates in a changing environment College and major: Ashland, Ohio Biology/Chemistry-2003 What you miss most about the Summer Research program : Hanging out with my REU cohort. They were a really fun and diverse group. I learned a lot from them and have enjoyed staying in touch. Also, the food was excellent. What you miss least about the program : Shared bathrooms and mosquitos. What about the program has stuck with you : The training in following a...Read more >

Students' summer in pictures

August 6, 2013
Congratulations Summer Research Program Students of 2013! This group conducted great research, withstood equipment malfunctions and other "that's research" delays admirably, and finally presented well-crafted presentations with poise at the 21st annual Student Research Symposium. They left this past weekend, some on Friday August 2 and some on Saturday August 3, with a phenomenal toolbox to draw from during later research experiences and academic forays. In addition to having great minds and work ethics, these students have huge hearts and adventurous spirits. Even during periods of...Read more >

You down with DDG?

August 2, 2013, by Shaylyn Adams
Shaylyn Adams and Vasco Carinhas
"Ooh you're working at the Harvard Forest, that's cool, right?! You get to swing from trees, work on your tan, get some exercise and play with chipmunks, right?!" Well, actually, wrong (and I'm sure most field work is not that glorious). Instead of building tree forts and befriending Bambi, my job at the Harvard Forest takes place pretty much completely inside (and with the deer flies this season, that's the way I like it). Not that I don't sweat; it gets fairly hot inside the Shaler building dining hall where there is no central AC. Nevertheless, rain or shine you can always find me and my...Read more >

Alumni profile: Where are you now?

August 1, 2013
Moussa Bakari Summer Research Program '11 Mentor : Jim Tang Project:  Soil Carbon Dynamics at Harvard Forest College and major: Lincoln University, Environmental Science and GIS. 2010. What you miss most about the Summer Research program : I miss the interaction with the mentors on a very casual basis. While some of the seminars were long, it was good to be able to have a one on one discussion with the presenters. There were a great opportunities, all around. What you miss least about the program : When in the field, it is always a good idea to have back-up power for your equipment. What...Read more >

Wool-wearing villains

July 31, 2013, by Justin Vendettuoli
Justin Vendettuoli
Clashing, crashing, smashing--the once hearty hemlock heaves its now crippled form to the forest floor. What brings this mighty tree to its knees? Was it the axe man, his barrel chest booming with each thunderous blow? Was it the furious gusts of a gale going through the eastern hemlock stand, singing songs of sorrow? NAY!!! The culprit creeps covertly along unsuspecting branches, before driving deep its dark feeder into the base of a hemlock needle: an invasive insect, a vile villain, the herald of misfortune for hemlocks all along the eastern lands. They drain the vigor from their victims...Read more >

A thousand little blank puzzle pieces

July 30, 2013, by Lake Boddicker
One of the aerial tram's sensors.
For the past two months I have been working on building an aerial tram with my two great teammates Devin Carroll and Faith Neff. This consisted of me sitting in front of a computer, occasionally graced by the presence of a sensor and motor, wondering why nothing was working. I think that I have gotten more of a tan from the computer screen than the actual sun. As I so found out, however, things did work, just slowly. But bit-by-bit, piece-by-piece things came together like a thousand little blank puzzle pieces. The first piece of the puzzle that started to work was the data logger. This was...Read more >

Alumni profile: Where are you now?

July 29, 2013
Brynne Simmons Summer Research Program '06 Mentor: Audrey Barker-Plotkin Project: Where Seedlings and Saplings Prefer to Grow College and major: Johnson C. Smith University, majored in biology and minored in chemistry, 2007 What you miss most about the Summer Research program:  I miss going into the forest with Audrey and collecting data. I also miss the people I worked with and their mentors. What you miss least about the program: Living next to cows. What about the program has stuck with you:  I enjoyed the research I did and how friendly the staff were. I was a picky eater and when the...Read more >

Exit the matrix

July 26, 2013, by Vasco A. Carinhas
There is life outside the Matrix. We, as computer scientists, sometimes tend to forget that. However, Harvard Forest makes sure we are reminded on a daily basis. Besides our trampling through the fascinating virtual world that is created through coding, we are thrust into the world that already surrounds us as part of our summer internship experience. One of our duties includes exploring the field in order to collect the saved data from the six hydrological stations distributed along the brooks and swamps in the vicinities of Prospect Hill. So, weekly, armed with a palm-pilot, a data sheet,...Read more >

Alumni profile: Where are you now?

July 24, 2013
Linn Jennings Summer Research Program '11 Mentors: Kristina Stinson and Sydne Record Project: A Demographic Study of Ambrosia artemisiifolia (Ragweed) Across a Rural to Urban Gradient in Massachusetts Hometown: Santa Barbara, California College and major: Mount Holyoke College, Environmental Studies, 2012 What you miss most about the Summer Research program :  I enjoyed spending lots of time outdoors and doing field research with other students. I also really loved living in Fisher house with all of my housemates! What you miss least about the program :  Nothing. What about the program has...Read more >

Did plants get that climate change memo?

July 22, 2013, by Guillermo Terrazas
Guillermo Terrazas
I open my sleepy eyes; it is 5 am and my hand cannot make it to the alarm clock before the voices in my head start telling me that it is too early to wake up. I take a deep breath, put my feet on the cold floor and get ready. I stare out the window trying not to fall asleep as I wait for my ride. I see lights coming down the road and head downstairs pretending I am a ninja, trying not to wake the other residents. Fast forward 3 hours. I am sitting in front of my computer thinking about how great my morning workout went. And how juicy and delicious were those blueberries and pineapple chunks...Read more >

Your mind has just been BLOWN!

July 19, 2013, by Johanna Recalde Quishpe
Rebecca Walker, Johanna Recalde Quishpe, and Justine Kaseman
I think we can all agree that the moment when you learn a new fact that has you rethinking your entire life is one of the best feelings. Am I right or am I right? Well, this summer I was fortunate enough to spend 11 weeks with the smartest and most interesting group of kids (not really kids, but not really adults either) in the middle of a beautiful forest. Here's a recount of some of the new things we've learned: 1. Daddy long legs are not spiders! What? Everything I know about life has been a lie! Daddy longlegs are arachnids, but they're not spiders. Instead they are called harvestmen. 2...Read more >

Alumni profile: Where are you now?

July 18, 2013
Lawren Sack Summer Research Program Project: Posion Ivy Hometown: Western Mass What about the program has stuck with you:  The REU program was the first place where I had the opportunity to design, from the beginning, my own scientific experiments. These skills have certainly stuck with me. Did your Summer Research experience support or change your school/career plans:  No. It definitely supported my school and career plans, and played a key role in my sucessful application to graduate school. What are you up to now:  After completing my PhD at UC Berkeley in 2010, I was a California...Read more >

Bonded

July 17, 2013, by Leah Nothnagel
As we near the end of summer and everything is getting hectic and crazy; it's starting to feel surreal that in a few short weeks I'm going to be back home living my normal life. It's a bittersweet feeling; while I'm sure everyone here is like myself and misses their friends and family, the idea of us not all being together as a group is kind of heartbreaking. There is a bond formed with all the REU students, but there's more than that. There's a bond with the houses, with the research partners, with the roommates.... For people who were strangers only 8 weeks ago, who came from all over the...Read more >

Alumni profile: Where are you now?

July 16, 2013
Roxanne Ardershiri
Roxanne Ardeshiri Summer Research Program '10 Mentor: Benjamin Baiser Project:  Community Ecology of "Sarracenia pupurea" Pitcher Plants College and major: UC Berkeley, Class of 2012 Molecular Environmental Biology B.S. What you miss most about the Summer Research program:  The forest itself, Tim's meals, assisting Aaron Ellison with his field work (trekking through Vermont bogs to find the elusive pitcher plant!), the cows, honing my canoeing skills and all of the social connections I made there. What you miss least about the program:  The tedious lab work. What about the program has...Read more >

Land use cartography 101

July 15, 2013, by George Andrews
George Andrews and Dave Kittredge
Polygons, polygons, and more polygons. These little and simple digital shapes may seem mundane, but to a geographer they contain a plethora of information when you place them on a map. I've been spending my summer creating these polygons, and have slowly turned into a budding cartographer. At first glance, spending nearly an entire summer nestled deep within the Harvard Forest seemed like a daunting task, especially for a guy who has never lived away from home or has held any sort of research position. Luckily however, my time at the Forest has been an amazing and fulfilling experience, and...Read more >

The smell of the future

July 12, 2013, by Angus R. Chen
Justine Kaseman and Angus Chen
Justine handles the Li-COR. We walk up a forest road, all dust and shallow braids cut by decades of rain. Clouds are marshaling in the west, promising of another of these torrents that are so frequent and so sudden in these parts. The Li-COR stretching Justine's arms to the earth is what we might call hydrophobic, a piece of electronic equipment worth its weight in newborn babies. We freeze on the path to examine undiscovered forest treasures: a shimmering garnet mica-schist, a gem-studded puffball, or a new butterfly that Justine drops everything to stalk – or at least blunder after with a...Read more >

Alumni profile: Where are you now?

July 11, 2013
Sarah Pears Boswell
Sarah Pears Boswell Summer Research Program '02 Mentors: Steve Wofsy; David Bryant; Lucy Hutyra Project: Stand Response to Inundation Hometown: Pennsylvania College and major: Dickinson College, Environmental Science 2004 What you miss most about the Summer Research program:  The collection of researchers- so many interesting people and cool projects in one place! I also miss running on the HF roads and trails. What you miss least about the program: The inherent drama of a large house full of college students. What about the program has stuck with you: I really learned how to do field-based...Read more >

Global warming in a plastic bucket

July 10, 2013, by Justine Kaseman
The elusive red backed salamander.
This summer at Harvard Forest, I am researching the top down effects of vertebrates on the ecosystem. We are using warming chambers which are about 10 feet in diameter and are heated up from 0 degrees to 5.5 degrees celcius over ambient temperature. For our experiment, we have created 3 mesocosms, which are like tiny environments in five gallon buckets. Each mesocosm has leaves, a rock, and some treatment. The treatments are as follows: Soil Soil and invertebrates Soils, invertebrates, and a salamander The soil includes the first trophic in the ecosystem: microbes. The inverts are the second...Read more >

This internship is painfully funny

July 8, 2013, by Lowell Chamberlain
Lowell Chamberlain
My summer internship at Harvard Forest has been SUPER DUPER interesting. I started this summer with a personal goal: to develop a better understanding of how science is practiced. Simple right? NO, Wrong wrong wrong! This objective has led me through funny, painful, and stressful events that so far have constructed an outrageous collage of wild summer experiences! The funny is important and sometimes hard to fully grasp. Getting rained on and soaked down to the bone for three weeks straight will build you character and zap every bit of energy out of your body. These miserable weeks of...Read more >

Alumni profile: Where are you now?

July 5, 2013
Amy Churchill
Amy Churchill Summer Research Program '07 Mentor: Missy Holbrook Project: Consequences of Fertile/Sterile Leaf Dimorphism in Ferns Hometown: Auburn, ME  College and major: Stonehill College in Environmental Studies and Biology, 2008  What you miss most about the Summer Research program: I miss the feeling of being surrounded by other students learning at the same rate as myself, and being focused completely on our projects without teaching, grants or the outside world getting in the way.  What you miss least about the program: Pre-dawn water potential measurements!  What about the program...Read more >

Processing tree cores and other forest adventures

July 3, 2013, by Pat O'Hara
An increment borer used for tree coring.
When I was in the third grade our recess was cancelled because there was a rogue cow on our playground; in middle school, I learned of trail running as an escape from essentially anything; my high school years consisted of my friends and I drooling over pickup trucks and then eventually getting our own; and when I finally moved to school in Cambridge in the fall, my best friends, quite brashly (but playfully...), took pleasure in labeling me as some hillbilly who somehow slipped by admissions officers. Although this last part is far from reality, and I actually live in a typical Boston suburb...Read more >

Finding the hay in a needle stack

July 1, 2013, by Rebecca Walker
Blackberries
Picture yourself strolling through a pristine, forest wilderness. You might imagine yourself surrounded by towering oaks or ash trees with powerful trunks that could be centuries old, under a dense umbrella of endless, green canopy. In the emerald shade created by the curtain of leaves above you, the air is cool and filled with the chirping of birds that make themselves at home in the woods. You might imagine that, as a forest ecologist, my summer at the Harvard Forest is spent working somewhere like this. You would, however, be very incorrect. Monday through Friday, the majority of my time...Read more >

Where the edible wild plants are

June 28, 2013, by Mónica M. Allende Quirós
Monica Allende Quiros smells a Sarsparilla Root
My eyes automatically opened and, as my internal alarm clock rang, I reached for the desk near my bed to pick up my cellphone to check the time. 5:27 AM. I beat my alarm by three minutes. I considered going back to sleep. It is Sunday, June 23, 2013 and I have been at Harvard Forest for 36 days. This room is starting to feel like my room. So, you may ask yourselves, what am I doing up at 5:30 AM on a Sunday if I don't have to work? Today, we are going to a class about the edible wild plants of New England. After a quick breakfast, we drove for about two hours to Westport, Massachusetts, to...Read more >

The slugs are trap happy, but where are the rodents?

June 26, 2013, by Amy Balint
My research team!
The past few weeks have had one thing in common: line after line of empty traps. This summer, I'm studying rodents and other small mammals to find out what happens to them when eastern hemlock forests die off due to an invasive insect called the hemlock woolly adelgid. To determine which species are present and estimate their population sizes, fellow REU student James and I have been heading out to the forest in the evenings to set traps for them. The traps are Sherman live traps, which we bait with sunflower seeds and organic cotton wool. The next morning, our mentor Ally picks us up at 4:00...Read more >

3 lessons REU taught me

June 21, 2013, by Christine Pardo
Thumbs up for science!
When I made my way from Florida to Massachusetts this past May, I made the awesome realization that I was living in Peters-HAM and not Peter-SHAM. I had been saying that wrong since February. Since then, I have learned far more at Harvard Forest in just one month (besides the proper New England-style pronunciation of random small towns) than I can begin to explain. So I present to you three of the many lessons learned during my time here, which I hope provides some insight into the life and mind of an REU student researcher. 1. The Scientific Method may cause injuries. And no, I don’t just...Read more >

Quick! Identify this fern!

June 18, 2013, by Sophie Bandurski
Sophie Bandurski measuring a cinnamon fern in one of the plots using the Li-Cor
Walking into the forest, I never imagined it was comparable to a human body. There are processes occurring constantly that can be both seen and heard, such as birds singing in the trees or spiders spinning webs between the trees. And then there are the ones you cannot see or hear, such as photosynthesis and respiration. My job this summer is to take notice of some of these unseen activities in order to gain a better understanding of the understory, or the plants that sprinkle the forest floor, to assess how their presence affects northern latitude forests. I begin every day at 7.30 a.m. in...Read more >

Let's build a robot!

June 14, 2013, by Devin Carroll
Image courtesy of http://www.industryleadersmagazine.com
When people hear the word robot they probably think of something like the photo below, a humanoid machine that acts like a person, but is smarter and stronger in nearly every way; robots that are self-aware and may be preparing to rise up against their creators. The primary goal of the robots from the above picture is to help people. Everything they do, every action they take, is intended to make their caretaker's life easier. It's important to note, that in today's world, every robot we have built was designed with the intention to make someone's life easier and safer. Whether they are the...Read more >

An insider's view of the natural history museum

June 11, 2013, by Faith Neff
A fish
Down in the depths of the Natural History Museum we tread. Here in this tight room, alongside 1.4 million dried and jarred fish samples, we learn about the importance of sample databases. When someone discovers a new species, they first have to go to places like the Natural History Museum to make sure it has not been found already. Nowadays we also use DNA testing to make sure that the discovery is valid. Once it has been established that the species is something new, a specimen sample is kept at the museum in case there is any dispute later down the line. But that's not all the samples are...Read more >

Snapshots from a forest: Comparing 1937, 1992 and 2013

June 11, 2013, by Hannah Wiesner
Pat O'Hara measures this tree's DBH, or diameter at breast height.
Laying out two tape measures to create a 22.5m x 22.5m square, my first field exercise this summer took place not within the Harvard Forest’s 3,500 acres, but instead on the lawn behind a residential cabin. We were learning to use a compass to place a stake at the NE, NW, SE and SW corners of the square, which is much easier to do in a yard where the only obstacles between you and your partner are inch-long blades of grass and not trees several meters in height. Creating exact plots is necessary for our project because we aim to recreate the plots that were set-up in 1937 and 1992 in the...Read more >

Wandering alone in a forest

June 11, 2013, by Channing Press
Channing Press at work on the daily grind.
I understand why, for most people, wandering about all alone in a forest, measuring over 1000 pieces of dead wood might not seem like the ideal college summer break. However, just when I think I am going to die from inhaling too much bug spray for fear of Lyme-disease-ridden-ticks and pesky Mosquitos, a little orange newt will stumble quite charmingly, trying to climb on the log I am measuring or a bird will sing a special song to me and I will remember just how cool my job is. Suddenly, a smile will appear on my face and a feeling of overall peace and beauty will rush through my bones. My...Read more >

Boston's a pretty hot town, or at least the trees think so

June 10, 2013, by David Miller
David Miller
Once again, I find myself wondering why this slope is so steep. The curve shows the approximate date that autumn begins relative to distance from downtown Boston, and the results are mind-boggling. I look over to my research partner, Memo Terrazas, from the University of Texas at Austin. "Fall starts half a day later per kilometer into the city... that can't be right." This is incredible. It appears that parts of Boston have an extra whole month of summer compared to relatively "rural" areas, like Framingham, less than 40 km from the Boston Public Garden. Climate change is more local than you...Read more >

The water project

June 7, 2013, by James Lietner
I walk 20 steps to get a glass of clean, clear water. Not everyone is this lucky. Some people walk over 3 miles to get dirty water that is filled with diseases and harmful, heavy metals. During this long walk, women carry over 45lbs of water and risk being attacked by soldiers or wild animals. Mostly women or young children are responsible for obtaining this dirty water; as a result, children miss school and the opportunity for a proper education. I had a chance to Skype with a very excited 8 year old named Uzuri, which means beauty in Swahili. Her village is in Kowak, Tanzania. Her village...Read more >

What do we care about more? Biodiversity or old trees?

June 7, 2013, by James Leitner
Hemlock Woolly Adelgid
I hear my alarm go off, 3:45am uhhhh. Time to get up and check the traps to see if we caught any rodents. My research project is seeing how the declines of the hemlock trees are affecting the amount of small rodent species like mice, shrews, voles, and flying squirrels. And yes, they are all adorable. Hemlock trees can grow more than one hundred feet tall and can live for hundreds of years. They provide homes for a lot of animals and insects, and are also a good food source for some animals that eat the leaves. Since they are so tall, they provide a lot of shade and make the area around them...Read more >

Time lapse photography goes underground

June 5, 2013, by Arline Gould
A close-up of our non-waterproof Minirhizotron
We rarely give much thought to what goes on beneath our feet. Even those of us who enjoy outdoor activities spend considerable amounts of money on shielding our soles from the earth upon which we walk. So much of what we know and experience pertains only to aboveground settings. Plants, on the other hand, derive much of their livelihood from the soil on which most of us are content merely to tread. This summer, I have the opportunity to alter common conceptions of forests, specifically the temperate forests I have grown up in and learned from throughout my entire life. With my mentor, Rose...Read more >

Trees on fire

June 4, 2013, by Dmitri Ilushin
Yeah, I'm the goof who messed up on crossing his arms.
Kenya? Been there. Japan? Seen that. Michigan highway I-96? Saw that last week. The best part is that I can do all this without leaving the comfort of my computer. My research at the forest involves trying to extract the day that leaves come out and when they fall off. The thing is, we don't really notice when the world gets just a bit hotter each year ourselves, but trees and other types of plants react pronouncedly to any subtle changes in average temperatures. I study these reactions by looking at pictures of trees over time from cameras located all around the world. In doing so, I try to...Read more >

Orientation: Science, homework, and friends! Oh my!

June 3, 2013, by Trynn Sylvester
Devin Carroll and Faith Neff in a hemlock canopy
"Twenty-four of twenty-six students settled into Harvard Forest on May 19 and 20. After a long Spring Semester, these dedicated and aspiring scientists are committing themselves to learn about lab safety, to memorize a new set of forest trails, to conduct research, to produce academic writing, and to deliver presentations for the next 11 weeks. Come July 31 and August 1, scientists and participants' families with gather to listen to each student present on his or her summer research at the annual Symposium..."Read more >

Spotlight on summer students

October 1, 2012
Just a few of the many accomplishments by Harvard Forest summer students past and present: Deepa Rao (REU '11) won the Christopher Goetze prize this year for best senior thesis in the Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Science department at MIT. Her thesis, a continuation of her Harvard Forest summer project, was advised by her summer mentor, Laura Meredith. She and Laura are working on publishing their results; in the meantime, they'll present this research at AGU's annual meeting this fall. Megan Bartlett (REU '09) and her mentor Andrew Richardson have published a new paper, "Variation in...Read more >

The blog of an ecologist dog

August 10, 2012, by Snickers
This summer, my mom takes me to work with her. She is a "research mentor," whatever that means. We go to Harvard Forest several times a week. I am very excited about going there because I am never alone. I usually stay by the table where my mom works and people come to pat me from time to time. When 12:00 pm comes, I start wagging my tail with excitement because I know it's time to go on a walk. I love walking through the forest. When I come back from the walk, I want to make friends with the cows in the pasture. However, Mom always gets upset when I get too close to them. After lunch, my...Read more >

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