In Peoria and Panama, rainforest research continues

August 10, 2011

Since 2005, Bradley’s computer science capstone course, taught by Dr. Steve Dolins, has been deeply entrenched in a rainforest. Students in the course each semester work with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, or STRI, to develop and modify a database used to track changes about the growth of trees in 40 rainforests in 21 countries around the world.

“The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute supports these countries in collecting their data and in exchange, the Smithsonian gets access to their data,” Dolins said.

This allows the Smithsonian to do wider global research when it comes to various species of trees.

Several groups of Bradley students have traveled to Barro Colorado Island in Panama, where the STRI offices are located, in order to work with members of STRI and to understand the rainforest and what they are working to achieve. Bradley alumnus Anudeep Singh ’09 lived in Panama for two months in 2010 in order to work on the project. He worked on a part of the project that searches for the carbon content in the soil and has greatly improved the user interface to the programs accessing the database, which were originally created by students.

“I went to Panama to meet the domain expert over there for two months. I was working on their project, making their database. I worked on that until November of 2010,” Singh said.

Singh now works from home on a different part of the project, communicating with members of STRI through email and Skype.

Two teams worked on the 2010-2011 computer science capstone project. One team focused on GUI (graphical user interface) and the other on databases.

“I help out by working with the GUI teams and Dr. Dolins works with the database team,” Singh said.

Dolins got Bradley involved in the project by suggesting that his students create the databases to Dr. Rick Condit, a staff scientist for STRI.

“Rick started asking me all these questions about databases and that’s how this project started. I kept giving him answers and helping him, so I said ‘Why don’t we just do this for you?’” Dolins said.

“I knew he had done this work before, but I didn’t realize how data intensive his work was,” Dolins said.