Evergreen Receives $877,000 from National Science Foundation

August 19, 2004

Contact: Nalini Nadkarni, (360) 867-6621
Judy Cushing, (360) 867-6652
Gerald Guala, (703) 292-8470

Evergreen receives $877,000 from National Science Foundation

Forest canopy research is a young and emerging science. Researchers had not discovered ways to compare the many types of forests from around the world – until now.

Judy Cushing and Nalini Nadkarni, faculty members at The Evergreen State College, think they've found a way. The National Science Foundation [NSF] has awarded them $877,000 to build a Web-based package of data and imaging software that would allow forest ecologists to connect and compare each other's work.

"Each researcher has measured one part of the forest, but no one has put the whole thing together. That is what Judy and I are trying to do – to describe the whole from the parts – by bringing in computer tools to help individual researchers synthesize what the forest structure really is," said Nadkarni, a forest ecologist.

The project's central program, DataBank, will serve two purposes: (1) to synthesize datasets from different forest types, making the data comparable and searchable, and (2) to help scientists develop ways to organize, analyze and visualize data in ways that promote research synthesis. In addition to DataBank, "CanopyView" will help researchers "draw" forest structure and "Big Canopy Database" will be a research networking system.

"While the work on this grant focuses primarily on the forest canopy, the findings and tools will be applicable more broadly within the field of ecology," Cushing said. "This is the kind of project where interdisciplinary collaboration is required – so Nalini and I are thankful to be at Evergreen which so encourages that ideal."

"The grant process is very competitive, it speaks very highly of Judy and Nalini to come out on top. They're a very high-caliber team, a neat collaboration between computer science and forest ecology," NSF program director Gerald Guala said. "The broader impacts of their project makes this a very good proposal to fund. The educational aspects are strong and the use of undergraduates is commendable."

Nadkarni and some forest ecologist colleagues already have a hypothesis to test with DataBank: changes in the structural diversity of forests, by humans or natural causes, affects biodiversity. DataBank puts years of collected data at Nadkarni's fingertips, saving her the task of finding funding for a new batch of research in a rough economy.

The three-year grant, effective Aug. 15, is one of the largest research awards the college has received.