On Tuesday, July 29, a group of researchers and their families met for a picnic outside of Puyallup, Wash., to commemorate the 40th anniversary of a research collaboration between the University of Washington and Washington State University—a program that laid the foundation for the current biofuels research at SEFS.
Organized in large part by Professor Emeritus Reinhard Stettler, the gathering brought together some of the core members of a research team that has spent several decades exploring the unusual potential of growing hybrid poplars.
The hybrid poplars, marked here with ribbon, quickly proved their unusual growth potential compared to non-hybrid neighboring trees.
In 1968, Stettler published a paper in Nature in which he described a mechanism to overcome a major barrier to hybridization in native cottonwoods—and he needed a place for the hybrids he had produced to grow. He turned to Professor Paul Heilman, based at WSU’s Puyallup Research & Extension Center, who agreed to plant the hybrids as well as the female Populus trichocarpa parents.
It was the early 1970s, and the Middle East oil embargo was driving up gas prices and threatening supply, so the U.S. Department of Energy put out a request for proposals on using biomass as a potential energy source. Stettler and Heilman secured one of the first grants through that program in 1978—a grant that would fund research for 20-plus years—and forged a partnership with WSU to conduct research on the genetic and environmental factors responsible for growth and disease resistance in the native black cottonwood and its offspring with known parents from eastern cottonwood or Populus deltoides.
“It was an important and model partnership between the state’s two major research institutions, WSU and UW,” says Professor Emeritus Tom Hinckley, a long-time collaborator on the project. “Without the one, the other would have failed.”
The July picnic brought many of the collaborators together at that original site, known as Farm 5, and included an update and field tour about ongoing research there involving a new generation of poplars. Hinckley especially enjoyed the opportunity to get reacquainted with former colleagues and students. “For me, it was the first time back there since 1992 or 1993, and it just brought back a flood of memories,” he says.
Photos © Tom Hinckley & Nico Stettler.
At the picnic (alphabetical): Curt Bod, former staff, WSU; Toby Bradshaw, former postdoc and research assistant professor, biology; Michael Carlson, former graduate student; Lynn Catlett, former staff, UW (+ Tony Ferruci); Reinhart Ceulemans, former visiting scientist (+Hedwig); Tom DeLuca, SEFS Director; Sharon Doty, SEFS Professor; Joan Dunlap, former graduate student; Gordon Ekuan, former staff, WSU; Ruth Fenn, former graduate student & staff, UW (+Lauren); Arturo Figliola, former graduate student (+Nino); Dylan Fischer, current faculty, Evergreen State College; Diane Fogle, former staff, WSU; Alex Friend, former graduate student; Paula Glackin, former staff, UW (+Jim); Barri Herman, current staff scientist at WSU and head of Poplar Program; Tom Hinckley, SEFS Professor Emeritus and former graduate student (+Arline); Jud Isebrands, former visiting scientist, former research scientist, USFS (+Sharon); Jeff Kallestad, current research staff, WSU; Carrie LeRoy, current faculty, Evergreen State College; Randi Luchterhand, current staff, WSU; Don Rice, current staff at Greenwood Industries (+Fran); Giuseppe Scarascia, former visiting scientist and graduate student) (+Elisa, Costanza, Tommaso); Barbara Smit, former faculty, SEFS (+Jim); Brian Stanton, current staff, Greenwood Industries (+Carol); Reini Stettler, former faculty, SEFS (+Dan, Nico); Liz VanVolkenburgh, professor, biology; Marc Villar, former visiting scientist (+Pascale); Brian Watson, former staff, UW (+Do); Jack Whisler, former staff, UW; Brenda Wiard, former graduate student (+Mark).