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Science student wins at research conference

Daniel Farias
Staff Writer

Who knew that forest trees could steal a competition?

For senior  pre-med biology major Rachel Butler, that’s exactly what happened.

Butler took home the price for Best Presentation at the Southern Forestry and Natural Resources Management (SOFOR) Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Conference in Athens, Ga., beating out graduate students for research conducted in forestry.

“It’s been a really good growing experience. It’s been wonderful to challenge myself beyond my expertise area,” said Butler.

The Eva, Ala., native presented her research Dec. 7-8 2015, revealing her finding as judges with backgrounds in research remote sensing, GIS, and higher education evaluated her.

Butler set out to examine compositional changes in pineal and old-growth forests through using satellite remote sensing. She chose Marshall Forest, five miles outside of Rome city limits.

Assistant Professor of Physical Science Michael Crosby helped Butler determine her research topic after she approached him in her sophomore year. She could have written a literature review, but she chose research.

“Since we have high-tech tools and imagery is free, I talked to her about doing remote sensing and she liked the idea of that,” said Crosby, who was Butler’s research advisor.

From the data taken, Butler and Crosby overlaid the images of Marshall Forest from both 1989 and 2011 and subtracted them from each other. The results show the change in composition over time.

Butler found that the pine oak tress were declining, while smaller understory tress began to experience growth.

“We have fewer and fewer pine and oak trees in the forest, and you’re getting so much more maple and oak,” said Butler. Butler and Crosby then conducted a field investigation of Marshall Forest, looking at the plots that had been created in the 1960s by a former professor. They resurveyed those plots, finding a definite change in the forestry.

According to Assistant Professor of Biology Clint helms, who taught Butler in General Biology and Human Anatomy and Physiology.

“Rachel was the ideal student. She worked hard, she asked really good questions, and when she didn’t understand something, she would come ask me,” said Helms.

Butler is president of the Shorter University Student Alumni Association (SUSAA) and the American Chemical Society, and she in active member of the Zeta Tau Alpha fraternity, the Alpha Chi Honor Society, and Student Government Association.

“It’s been a really wonderful way to stretch myself and grow,” said Butler.