#SciFund Rd 3 with Michelle Spicer http://rkthb.co/11883

#Scifund Round 3 is underway and each day I will highlight a new proposal from the Challenge to give you a more in-depth understanding of each participant and their research.

Today I present Michelle Spicer. Her research examines a century old experiment long forgotten, involving an experimental forest in Pennsylvania.

Tell us about yourself, where you are from, and where you see yourself going.

I am a first year ecology Masters student at Lehigh University (in Bethlehem, PA). I also went to Lehigh for my undergrad, in a program called IDEAS (Integrated Degree in Engineering and Arts & Science), concentrating on chemical engineering and environmental sustainability. Originally I am from Horseheads, NY (Editor’s note: YAY!!!), a tiny little town close to Ithaca. After my Masters, I plan on heading off to a different school to do a PhD in ecology–hopefully doing more research on forest dynamics. Also, I plan to return to Costa Rica to do more tropical ecology research.

How did you get involved in your research project?

As an undergraduate, I was always curious about the mysterious Lehigh arboretum…and then senior year started an independent study project  on the arboretum’s next-door neighbor, the LU Experimental Forest. I was looking at invasive tree species there, fell in love with the forest, and continued into the Master’s program to work more on it with my advisor, Bob Booth.

Why is your research important to you? Why should others fund it?

This forest really offers a unique research opportunity–we know what was planted there a century ago, but then it was forgotten and left to its own devices until last year; this way we have a clear before-after picture of this dynamically changing forest experiment. We can learn so much by studying these long-term changes, especially concerning how well different tree species can resist competition; in a changing climate, invasive tree species will be expanding into new habitats, and the insight we gain about this forest’s growth can help us make better forest management decisions. The experimental forest also holds great potential for integration into future undergraduate research and environmental classes, since it is a natural outdoor laboratory.

Do you have a favorite story that came from working on your research project?

I distinctly remember the overwhelming excitement I felt when my advisor first mentioned the arboretum/experimental forest in an ecology class.  The previous summer, I had done research in the tropical forests of Costa Rica, and was interested in doing forest ecology at Lehigh when I returned. I had heard mention of the arboretum before but could not find anything on it when I searched. A month later, when it was brought up in class, it was like love at first sight–I could not wait to uncover some of the mystery surrounding the place! Today, I am even more enthralled by the place, and look forward to delving into these questions.

Why did you decide to particpate in the SciFund Challenge?

I think what I am doing in the experimental forest can really resonate with the public. It’s exciting–I am uncovering the mysterious history of these trees by filling in the questions of what happened? how did it happen? and when did it happen? between 1915 and today. The idea of actually bringing my research to the public–and having them be a part of it by funding me–is thrilling. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our studies that we forget other people might care about it too! SciFund is a great way to share what you are discovering with the public, as well as network with other scientists doing interesting projects.

What was the most difficult aspect of building your SciFund Proposal? What was your favorite?

Making the video was definitely the most difficult aspect of the SciFund project. I have never done any type of video project, and it turned out to be incredibly time consuming! However, I am very proud of the final outcome, and would say that sharing it with colleagues and friends when I finished was the most rewarding part of the proposal process.

Tell us something random. Something funny. Something borrowed. Something blue.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” (The Lorax, Dr. Seuss)

Her project is interesting to me because my D2O experiments follow a similar arc. In the 1930’s-60’s there were a lot of experiments involving the effects of heavy water on life. Somehow the interest in that science ceased and there are almost no experiments between 1970 and now about the effects of water on life. Then I come along and open it all up again! It’s like I’ve discovered a hidden wardrobe and have stumbled upon Narnia. Good luck with your project Michelle!

Thanks Michelle for sharing your science! And to save you time from scrolling up, you can read about her project and contribute here.