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Summer Research Experience: Student Blog

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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 >