2016 McIntire-Stennis Research Grant Winners

This fall, the SEFS Research Committee awarded five Graduate Research Augmentation Grants through the McIntire-Stennis Cooperative Forestry Research program, totaling $72,209 in funding.

This special round of grants was designed to support graduate student research, with awards targeted for Spring 2016 or Summer 2016 (and with all funding to be spent in full by September 30, 2016). Read more about the funded projects below!

Awarded Projects

1. Nisqually Garry Oak Habitat: Cultural and Ecological Considerations for Successful Restoration in the Nisqually Tribal Reservation

PI: Professor Ernesto Alvarado, SEFS
Co-PI: Professor Steve Harrell, SEFS

Garry oak (Quercus garryana) ecosystems are a designated Priority Habitat for management in Washington State (Larsen and Morgan 1998). Although there are many research projects that examine how to restore Garry oak ecosystems for the purposes of establishing more habitat for endangered and threatened species like the golden paintbrush (Castilleja levisecta) and Mazama pocket gopher (Thomomys mazama), respectively (Larsen and Morgan 1998), there are few studies that look at restoration for the objective of developing an environment for the purpose of cultural restoration, specifically agroforestry. We intend to evaluate whether Garry oak ecosystem restoration for the intended purpose of cultural activities (traditional medicinal and edible plant harvests, inter-generational education) will greatly change the components of the restoration and management plan of the Garry oak ecosystem.

Award total: $13,232

2. How Do Conclusions About the Effectiveness of Fuels-reduction Treatments Vary with the Spatial Scale of Observation?

PI: Professor Jon Bakker, SEFS
Co-PI: Professor Charles Halpern, SEFS

Restoration of dry-forest ecosystems has become a prominent and very pressing natural resource issue in the western U.S. Although mechanical thinning and prescribed burning can effectively reduce fuel loads in these forests, scientists and managers remain uncertain about the ecological outcomes of these treatments. This uncertainty reflects the short time spans of most restoration studies and a limited consideration of how ecological responses vary with the spatial scale of observation. This funding will support graduate student research that explores how ecological responses to fuels-reduction treatments vary with the spatial scale of observation, and will complement ongoing research on the temporal variability of responses.

Award total: $15,114

3. Growth and Physiological Response of Native Washington Tree Species to Light and Drought: Informing Sustainable Timber Production

PI: Professor Greg Ettl, SEFS
Co-PIs: Matthew Aghai, third-year Ph.D. student at SEFS; Rolf Gersonde, affiliate assistant professor with SEFS and Seattle Public Utilities Silviculture; and Professor Sally Brown, SEFS

Intensive management of the conifer-dominated forests of the Pacific Northwest has resulted in millions of acres of largely mono-specific second- and third-growth forests. These forests have simple vertical structure and low biodiversity, and consequently much lower value of non-timber forest products. Research on establishment of underplanted trees in partial light is needed to increase structural and compositional diversification of Douglas-fir plantations undergoing conversion to multispecies stands. However, the ecology of seedling establishment under existing canopies is poorly understood. The general aim of our research is to address the need for improved structural diversity in managed forest systems through a better understanding of species-specific performance potential of underplanted seedlings. This proposal extends ongoing research; in this phase we will document physiological differences in seedling performance.

Award total: $17,004

4. A Novel Reactor for Fast Pyrolysis of Beetle-Killed Trees

PI: Professor Fernando Resende, SEFS

In this project, we will optimize the production of pyrolysis bio-oil from beetle-killed lodgepole pine using a technique called ablative pyrolysis. We developed a novel and unique system for pyrolysis of wood that has the capability of converting entire wood chips into bio-oil. This characteristic is important for mobile pyrolysis units, because it eliminates the need of grinding wood chips prior to pyrolysis.

Award total: $15,887

5. Modeling the Effects of Forest Management on Snowshoe Hare Population Dynamics in Washington at the Landscape Scale

PI: Professor Aaron Wirsing, SEFS

The Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) is already listed as Threatened in Washington and, following an ongoing status review, likely to be designated as Endangered because much of its habitat has been lost to a series of large wildfires since 2006. Lynx subsist on snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus), and it is widely acknowledged that habitat quality for lynx is tied to the availability of this prey species, so forest management with the goal of promoting lynx conservation requires an understanding of the relationship between silvicultural practices and hare abundance. Accordingly, we are requesting summer 2016 funds to complete the third and final phase of a graduate research project whose objective is to assess the impacts of forest management on hare numbers across a large landscape in north-central Washington. By sampling a network of snowshoe hare fecal pellet transects spanning protected and harvested portions of the Loomis State Forest for a third consecutive summer, we will produce a model of hare relative abundance that will enable managing agencies to tailor their harvest plans such that they promote snowshoe hare availability and, as a result, lynx population persistence.

Award total: $10,972

SEFS Seminar Series: Week 2 Preview

Fernando Resende

Professor Fernando Resende

After a great presentation and terrific turnout for Mary Ruckelshaus of the Natural Capital Project in Week 1 of the SEFS Seminar Series, we’re excited to build on that energy this Tuesday with Professor Fernando Resende!

In his talk tomorrow (Oct. 8), “Thermochemical Conversion of Lignocellulosic Biomass into Fuels and Chemicals,” Resende will explain how we can make fuels and high-value products from wood, grass and agricultural residues—and how his work specifically uses high-temperature engineering processes.

The seminars are held on Tuesdays from 3:30-4:20 p.m. in Anderson 223, and all students, staff and faculty are encouraged to attend. Make sure to mark your calendars for the rest of the seminars this fall!

(A special thank you, as well, to the Dead Elk Society for their help organizing the reception after the seminar. The next reception is scheduled after Professor Stanley Asah’s talk on November 5.)

Photo © Fernando Resende.

Grad Student Spotlight: Oliver Jan

In case you need further proof that not all “light bulb moments” happen in a lab or classroom, consider the story of Oliver Jan, a first-year doctoral student at the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS) at the University of Washington.

He remembers one afternoon as a senior in high school when he was driving home from work. As Jan battled an overwhelming need to use the restroom, a different though not entirely unrelated thought elbowed its way into his frantic mind: Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could turn human waste into fuel and energy?

Oliver Jan

Since high school, Oliver Jan has studied various ways to convert waste products into useful, renewable energy sources.

As soon as he got home, Jan jumped online and typed in a few search terms around his idea. Words like “chemistry” and “chemical engineering” kept popping up, and he suddenly knew what he wanted to study at college. “I liked energy,” he says, “and this idea of converting waste into something more productive.”

Jan, who grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, went on to major in chemical engineering at UC Irvine—where a second moment of serendipity steered his studies.

At a chemical engineering conference in Minneapolis, Jan ended up meeting SEFS Professor Fernando Resende. They struck up a conversation at a reception, and Resende talked about his laboratory and explained some of his research with alternative fuels. Jan later followed up with Resende and ended up becoming one of his first graduate students at SEFS.

One year into his program, Jan’s doctoral research now focuses on thermochemically converting lignin, an organic waste product of the pulp and paper industry, into renewable liquid biofuels that can be used to power cars, airplanes and other forms of transportation.

“It’s not a groundbreaking idea, because a lot of people here are looking at this problem,” he says, but that doesn’t make the research any less urgent or important. Lignin is the glue that helps keep plants and trees limber and protects their structure, and it’s the second-most-abundant source of renewable carbon on the planet. Yet Jan says only 2 percent of 50 million tons of lignin is being used commercially. “There has to be a better way to implement lignin.”

He feels the same about research funding.

One of the biggest challenges facing young researchers, says Jan, is overcoming a huge activation barrier for funding. Depending on your field, you have only a handful of reliable grant sources, such as the U.S. Department of Energy or National Science Foundation, and the application process is hypercompetitive—especially for less-established scientists.

Not one to leave a surface unscratched, though, Jan started exploring different options to help finance and promote his doctoral research. He soon discovered Microryza, a “crowdfunding platform for science research grants” that two former UW researchers, Denny Luan and Cindy Wu, designed and founded in 2012 (the name comes from Mycorrhizae, fungi that live in the roots of plants).

Oliver Jan
Jan’s fundraising page on Microryza went live on July 1, 2014.

Like Jan, Luan and Wu were frustrated with the traditional research funding model, so they created a grassroots structure of individual public donations. Their site is similar to Kickstarter, except instead of seeking public funding for creative arts—music, design, films, games, technology—Microryza lets viewers browse a range of compelling research projects. Individuals then pool their money in support of a project, pledging various levels as “backers” until the funding goal is reached. These backers are only charged if the project reaches its donation target during a set timeframe. And unlike Kickstarter, the purpose of Microryza isn’t to invest in a tangible product or reward, says Jan. It’s to share in the scientific process and help fund research you believe is important to society.

Research categories on Microryza cover a broad range, from ecology and medicine to economics and engineering. A sampling of current projects on the site includes “How Does Mount Rainier Help Maintain Traditional Tribal Plant Harvesting?” and “Engineering E. Coli to Produce Hydrogen Gas Fuel.” Some have modest goals in the $1,500 to $3,500 range. Others are more ambitious, depending on the nature of the research.

What particularly caught Jan’s eye was how many professors and students were among the people seeking support for their research. And not just the numbers, but their success—even right here at UW.

Dan Jaffe, a professor of Chemistry and Atmospheric Sciences at UW, recently put up a proposal for consideration, “Do coal and diesel trains make for unhealthy air?” He set the target at $18,000. Within a week, he’d surpassed $20,000 in donations and launched the project with 113-percent support.

Jan then set to work on his own Microryza project, “Can we transform waste into clean biofuel?” He knows his target of $20,000 is aggressive, and he plans to spend the summer drumming up excitement and interest through friends and social networks. But he’s not pinning all of his hopes on this fundraising experiment, which he believes has an upside regardless of the outcome. “Even if I don’t get the funding,” he says, “it’s a great way to see how many people are interested in the biofuels work we’re doing here at the UW.”

As of July 1, 2013, his webpage on Microryza is now fully up and ready, so feel free to take a look and see if his research moves you. Who knows, you could be the one who fuels Jan’s next scientific discovery!

Photos © Oliver Jan.

Xi Sigma Pi Announces Research Grant Winners for 2013

Xi Sigma PiXi Sigma Pi, the Forestry Honor Society founded at the University of Washington in 1908, is proud to announce the recipients of this year’s research grant funding. After long and hard deliberation, and the careful review of many highly competitive proposals, the following winners were selected:

Two First Place Winners of $500 each:
Oliver Jan, “A mechanistic approach towards lignin char reduction and valorization in catalytic fast pyrolysis through bifunctional Pd/ZSM-5 catalysts” (Faculty Advisor: Fernando Resende)

Luyi Li, “The effects of soil parent material and fertilization treatment on the wood quality of Douglas fir in the Pacific Northwest” (Faculty Advisor: Eric Turnblom)

Second Place Winner of $250:
Sebastian Tramon, “The mystery of conservation outcomes: Looked through institutional lenses” (Faculty Advisor: Clare Ryan)

Undergraduate Research Winner of $250:
Raymond Yap, “Colonization, degradation of Trichloroethylene and comparison of phytotoxicity in plants inoculated with endophyte PDN3″ (Faculty Advisor: Sharon Doty)

Congratulations to all of the grant recipients, and Xi Sigma Pi extends a big thank you to the grant review committee!