Bradley University  ::Attending Bradley :: Apply Online :: Student Life :: Our Community :: Visit Us :: A to Z :: Search :: Home

Bradley Hilltopics

Spring 2009 • Volume 15, Issue 2  

Web Extras
Calling the action | Computer science meets the rainforest | Mid-year commencement | More than crunching numbers | Reaching into the community | Outstanding First-year Student Awards | Saving green by going green | Share your ROTC memories | Late Night BU | Inauguration parade march | Discovering internships | Slideshow: Legislators from BU; Historic BU baseball; BU artists in Print/Drawing International

 

Computer science meets the rainforest

By ABBY WILSON ’10

One of the nation’s hottest Spring Break destinations is Panama City, Fla., but three computer science majors and a computer science associate professor are going somewhere even hotter: a rainforest in Panama to work with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI).

Dr. Steven Dolins has worked with STRI on various projects for the last four years. This year, three students in Dolins’ CS490/491 capstone class created software that STRI will use to record tree data on Barro Colorado Island, Panama, located in the middle of the Panama Canal.

MARK OVERHOLT ’09, ED GILLEN ’09, and WILL HERRING ’09 spent last semester building data-entry software for STRI. STRI measures the diameter of every tree in the survey plot at breast height, then every stem on the trees. Next, they record their data on paper. The program the students developed recreates the paper forms on the computer so all the data entries will match. After the data is entered, it is put in files and uploaded into the database. Validation checks are performed before the data is actually loaded, and the process can be stopped and restarted at any time.

STRI sponsors research in various land plots around the world, so the software the students designed will potentially be used in other places like India, Sri Lanka, Cameroon, and Taiwan, to name a few.

The five-day trip to Panama is packed. One day will be spent on the beach. Another will be spent presenting data flow diagrams and code for the software to STRI; another day they will be testing data-entry code in a student-developed form from a previous project with STRI. The group will also spend one day in the rainforest viewing the research area where the data is collected.

“It’s interesting for the students, especially since they’re working on the data entry system,” said Dolins. “They can see how the plot is divided up into quadrants; they can see the tags on the trees; they can see multiple signs on each tree. It brings to life the kind of data that’s being collected and then entered and then stored into the database.”

A Bradley Special Emphasis grant, along with a matching grant from STRI, helped to fund the trip. Dolins is excited about the prospects the trip has for both the students and STRI.

“There are so many good things about this experience,” he said. “It’s an invaluable experience for the students.”

Will Herring agrees, “It has helped my programming and problem-solving skills. They have come a long way from where they were a year ago.”

This isn’t the only environmental project that Dolins’ students are working on. Another senior project group is building a different database that many environmental groups around the world will use. While most of the database users study rainforests, others study forests in more mild climates. Dr. Barbara M. Thiers (shown below with Dolins), director of the William and Lynda Steere Herbarium and editor of Index Herbarium at the New York Botanical Garden, was on campus on March 12 to talk to the students working on this integrated database. It will store specimen data from herbarium, as well as plot data.

Dr. Barbara M. Thiers talks with students working on the integrated database

 

Calling the action | Computer science meets the rainforest | Mid-year commencement | More than crunching numbers | Reaching into the community | Outstanding First-year Student Awards | Saving green by going green | Share your ROTC memories | Late Night BU | Inauguration parade march | Discovering internships | Slideshow: Legislators from BU; Historic BU baseball; BU artists in Print/Drawing International