Fall 2012

Harvard Selects UWSP Student for Research

By Nick Boehm

When Samuel Knapp received an acceptance letter from a summer research program at Harvard Forest, he could hardly believe it. Years of hard work and dedication led him to a prestigious research program at Harvard University, a rarity for any college student.  However, Knapp admits part of his success goes to UW-Stevens Point, a school that Knapp said, gave him the accommodations he needed as a student to succeed.

Knapp proudly represented UW-Stevens Point in the 2012 summer program at Harvard Forest by researching the phenology of fine root systems in temperate forest trees.

The Harvard Forest is a long-term ecological research site located in central Massachusetts and is the last remaining vestige of Harvard’s school of forestry. Aside from impressive research facilities, the Fisher Museum and influential professors, Harvard Forest contains a remarkable 3,500 acres of land.  It serves as a demonstration site and classroom, illustrating the effects of human interaction with land. It also hosts biologists and ecologists from around the world studying everything from ecosystem-atmosphere interactions to the ecology of pollinators.

While studying at Harvard Forest, Knapp tracked the growth and mortality of on-site underground roots by using specialized photography equipment. His observations allowed him to quantify the amount and timing of atmospheric carbon being allocated to fine root systems. The information Knapp gathered can be used to inform current climate models and predict future fluctuations in atmospheric carbon dioxide.

“My experience at Harvard Forest gave me a realistic idea of what work as a research scientist actually entails,” said Knapp.  “I certainly gained new technical skills in engineering and data collection, but more importantly I learned to interact effectively in a collaborative scientific community.  It was a gratifying experience to put skills learned in the classroom to use in a real world setting.”

UW-Stevens Point Biology Professor Eric Singsaas worked with Knapp on an earlier project that measured the photosynthesis rate of moss as a model system for the processes of biofuels. Over the 2012-13 school year Singsaas and Knapp will be collaborating on a similar project with UW-Platteville and UW-Madison faculty and student as they develop undergraduate biofuel labs.

“Sam has one of the key qualities I look for in a research student, the ability to take charge of his project and explore on his own,” Singsaas said.

Knapp plans to graduate from UW-Stevens Point in the spring of 2014 with majors in Physics and Chemistry and a minor in Biology.

“Sam came to UW-Stevens Point to study basic sciences; biology, chemistry and physics because these subjects will give him the background to build a career that reflects his values,” said Singsaas.  And those values are leading him to a bright future.

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