Rainforest database benefits Smithsonian
Dr. Rick Condit, top, of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) gives a tour of Barro Colorado Island, Panama. CS&IS students, bottom, from left, Gabrielle Olivera ’07, Andrew Sablan ’07, Tyler Tippett ’08, and Brooke Barnabe ’07, and associate professor of computer science and information systems Dr. Steven Dolins pose for a photo while visiting Panama. They visited STRI and Barro Colorado Island off of Panama as part of a project for CS 490/491 in which they created a tree database for the Institute.
Sunscreen, insect repellent, raincoat, umbrella, hat, long-sleeved shirt, hiking boots, and binoculars…These are not your typical requirements for a computer science and information systems class. However, last fall, students in the department of computer science and information systems (CS&IS) needed those items after Bradley implemented CS 490/491, a two-semester class that enabled students to work in a team environment and gain real-world experience.
The course’s capstone project took four Bradley students into the rainforests of Panama to help Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) botanists and zoologists create a tree database with data collected from more than 3 million trees from 6,000 species. Since 1932, the STRI, based in Panama City, Panama, has been collecting data from tropical forests from around the world including 14 countries in the Americas, Africa, and Asia.
The idea for the project was born during a conversation between Dr. Steven Dolins, associate professor of computer science and information systems at Bradley, and his friend Dr. Rick Condit, who works for the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama City. Condit’s work involves conducting tree censuses—measuring the diameter of trees and studying their growth patterns to understand why some die after a short time while others thrive. Dolins mentioned to Condit that his students could help the study by designing a database for the scientists that would be more flexible than the one they had been using with respect to storing data such as taxonomy changes, measurement changes, and measurement attributes. Condit traveled to Bradley, was interviewed by the students, and the project was underway.
Bradley CS&IS students Gabrielle Olivera ’07, Brooke Barnabe ’07, Andrew Sablan ’07, Tyler Tippett ’08, and Anthony Osafo ’07 were responsible for all aspects of the project including interviewing the clients, creating a database and user interface, and generating reports. The data stored for STRI by the Bradley students was primarily tree measurements and species information. The database was modified from a design created by Bradley CS&IS students during the 2005-2006 school year after it was learned that the STRI scientists wanted to track trees by current names as well as tree names used in the past. Two types of reports were built for the STRI team: a plot and taxonomy report system for viewing data from the database, and a taxonomy editor to allow for changes to easily be made to the database. “They are constantly learning new things about these trees, which calls for constant changing of the taxonomy,” said Olivera.
In December, four of the five students enrolled in CS 490/491 traveled to Panama to present the database to Condit and the clients at STRI, and to visit the rainforest on the Barro Colorado Island in the Panama Canal where the data for this project was being collected. The tour was an eye-opening experience for the students, where the average daytime temperature in December is between 70 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit, with 80 percent humidity.
“Touring the rainforest gave us a better understanding of the problems our clients were facing. It really helped with communication,” said Tippett. The students also met with the STRI domain expert who will be maintaining the database, as well as botanists and zoologists from around the world. “The students presented their work to 18 world leaders in the field. I think we impressed everyone,” said Dolins.
STRI traces its roots to the early U.S. involvement in the construction of the Panama Canal. Growing numbers of Smithsonian scientists and projects in Panama since 1911 led to the need for a unit dedicated to scientific research in the tropics. Today, STRI has research facilities on the Barro Colorado Island, the Naos molecular laboratory in Panama City, marine research stations at Galeta and Bocas del Torro, and the montane forest station at Foutuna. The Institute’s work is dedicated to increasing understanding of the past, present, and future of tropical environments, and their relevance to human welfare. Each year, an international staff of 40 scientists and approximately 800 visiting scientists and students conduct research. They represent a variety of scientific disciplines, including tropical and marine biology, forest ecology, paleontology, anthropology, and archaeology.
For more information about the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute vist their Web site. Go>
When Brad Ator ’64 retired after working 40 years as an electrical engineer, he made a to-do list. He wanted to return to Bradley and “walk” graduation. Ator was two courses short of his degree at spring graduation, so after finishing his Bradley courses during the summer, he received his diploma in the mail in Utah. His wife, Gloria Danner Ator ’66, accompanied him to the May 19 commencement at the Peoria Civic Center to share in his excitement. Although Ator knew no one in the 2007 class, he said, “I felt like I was coming home again.”
Write to the Editor
Send us your thoughts on all topics in Hilltopics Online, including ideas for future articles, news or a University–related issue.
Get Update Notices
Subscribe to receive e-mail notices when the online magazine is updated.