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The Center for Tree Science

The Center for Tree Science seeks to create the scientific knowledge and technical expertise necessary to sustain trees, through collaborative research that addresses the key challenges facing trees, building scientific networks and shared research resources, and inspiring and enabling tree science leaders through mentorship.

As an example of the interdisciplinary research and mentoring in tree science, consider Sydney, a mechanical engineering student at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT). She joined the Center for Tree Science’s Integrated Mentorship Program as part of the National Science Foundation-funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) summer program.  Sydney was mentored as part of an active collaboration between the Center for Tree Science’s Director, Dr. Chuck Cannon, and engineering professor Dr. Matthew Spenko from IIT.  Colby Borchetta, the Center’s resident engineer working on new drone technology, also played a key role mentoring Sydney last summer.

In foreground: REU student using ipad to direct the flight of a drone, In background: drone flying near canopy of tree with green leaves
REU student Sydney Kaplan flying a drone as part of her work to find new ways to collect tree-canopy data to monitor tree health.

Sydney joined eight other students in the REU program who were mentored by other Center scientists in forest ecology, soil ecology, urban forestry, and conservation genetics. REU students also attended professional development workshops and interacted with other Chicago-area institutions such as the Chicago Botanic Garden and the Lincoln Park Zoo.

After the intensive 10-week program that culminated with a scientific presentation to the Arboretum, Sydney took her project, “Drones for Tree Science: Multi-sensor 3D modeling and precise canopy sampling,” to the International Society for Horticultural Science (ISHS) meeting in Palermo, Italy. She was joined and supported by Colby, and she won the ISHS Young Minds Award for best student poster.

This spring, Sydney has secured an internship with Abundant Robotics in New Zealand, where she will work with apple-harvesting technology and earn credit toward her mechanical engineering degree at IIT.  This summer she’ll return to the Center for Tree Science to continue her work with Chuck, Colby, and Matthew, helping to bring the Center for Tree Science closer to its goal of finding new and efficient ways to sample tree canopies while following her dream to build robots to save the world.

Developing the scientific knowledge and technical expertise to sustain trees

The Center for Tree Science conducts and communicates research that addresses the key challenges facing trees, builds collaborative scientific communities and shared research resources, and mentors and inspires the next leaders in tree science.  As in Sydney’s case, the Center for Tree Science emphasizes collaborations from diverse fields to leverage each others’ strengths so more is accomplished together than could be done individually.  The Center engages in thoughtful mentorship that achieves scientific goals and encourages students along their career paths.

The Center develops the scientific knowledge and technical expertise necessary to sustain trees, in all their diversity, in built environments, natural landscapes, and living collections.  Because the best science examines ideas from diverse perspectives, the Center cultivates collaborations with scientists and professionals from gardens, arboreta, universities, industry, government, and nonprofits around the world.

The Center’s work focuses on key outcomes for trees

  • Understanding evolution, distributions, and taxonomy  
  • Resilience and adaptation to pests, pathogens, land use, and climate change
  • Expanding knowledge and protection of genetic and species diversity in collections and in place
  • Sustaining habitats, ecosystem processes, and ecosystem services
  • Improving performance of trees and plants as green infrastructure to improve the health and beauty of cities and towns
  • Development of engineering tools, databases, biological archives, research platforms, and new study methods
  • Public awareness of the diversity, function, and value of trees for nature and society

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