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Research Opportunity for High School Students

Summer and Academic Year Research Opportunity for High School Students

The SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry offers a research opportunity for curious and motivated high school students. As part of this free research course, ESF 296, students can work with undergraduate and graduate students in the Multiple Element Limitation in Northern Hardwood Ecosystems (MELNHE) project coordinated by Dr. Ruth Yanai.

Who Are We?

The Forest Ecology Lab at SUNY-ESF is run by Dr. Ruth Yanai. Dr. Yanai is a professor and researcher in the Sustainable Resource Management Department at ESF. The following is a general overview of how to get involved and links to more information about our project. Check out the lab crew blog.

Registering For Credit

High school students earn college credit through the ESF in the High School program. Students register for 1-3 credits on a rolling admission basis. 45 hours of lab work is required for each 1 credit. Most students who want to do more than 1 credit, usually register for 1 credit on a semester-to-semester basis. Students receive a letter grade for their work. Here is a link to the syllabus. 

Students register through the ESF in the High School program. If you are currently or have been enrolled, in this program, let us know and we'll take care of registration  for you (e.g., Global Environment, Biology).

General Lab Experience

During the school year, our lab offers hours on Saturdays and Sundays. As part of a typical day in the lab, students process soil samples (sorting live roots into size classes) and leaf litter (sorting leaf litter by species). Other skills acquired in our lab include data entry, error detection and recovery, and graphing. 

Additional opportunities:

  • Independent project- If a student is interested in starting an independent project, they can meet with Dr. Ruth Yanai to discuss options.
  • Students 18 or older learn how to acid wash, grind and digest samples, and analyze them using ICP.

During the summer, open lab hours vary based on the participant's schedules and those of the supervisor. If you want to register for the summer, but don't know if it matches your schedule, ask! 

What will you learn or gain by participating?

  • Hands-on experience with data collection
  • Hands-on work experience in a research lab
  • Contribute to a large, ongoing research project
  • Skill development in areas such as leaf identification and soil texture analysis
  • Earn 1 to 3 college credits
  • Meet high school students, ESF students and faculty and develop connections

Lab access

Where is the Lab? And how do I get in?

SUNY ESF Main Campus, 1 Forestry Drive, Baker Laboratory Room 176, Syracuse, NY (off West Campus Drive), see map

The door will be locked, call 315-565-3002 (lab phone) or the lab host. You may also use the campus police box located near the door. Simply press “Call” or dial x6667 for non-emergency (x6666 for emergencies) and ask them to unlock the door.

Project Background

Temperate forest ecosystems are generally thought of as areas where their primary production markedly increases when nitrogen fertilizer is applied, called Nitrogen-limited or N-limited. Using the theory that resources should be allocated and managed in the most efficient way, called resource optimization, we can predict that the ecosystem productivity should be co-limited by multiple nutrients. These ideas are represented in the Multi-Element Limitation (MEL) model, developed by Ed Rastetter at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. To test the patterns of resource limitation predicted by MEL, we are conducting nutrient manipulations (fertilizing with N, P, N+P, and Ca) in three study sites in New Hampshire: the Bartlett Experimental Forest, the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, and Jeffers Brook in the White Mountain National Forest.

Student participants monitor stem diameter, leaf area, sap flow, foliar chemistry, leaf litter production and chemistry, foliar nutrient resorption, root biomass and production, mycorrhizal associations, soil respiration, heterotrophic respiration, N and P availability, N mineralization, soil phosphatase activity, soil carbon and nitrogen, nutrient uptake capacity of roots, and mineral weathering. 

The MELNHE research project is led by three principal investigators: Dr. Ruth Yanai, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse, NY; Dr. Melany Fisk, Miami University of Ohio, Oxford, OH; and Dr. Tim Fahey, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, with a host of additional collaborators, including graduate students, technicians, undergraduate students, high school teachers and students and visiting scientists.

Sites & Experimental Design

Our research takes place in three sites in New Hampshire - the Bartlett Experimental Forest (BEF) in Bartlett, NH, the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest (HB) in North Woodstock, NH, and Jeffers Brook in the White Mountain National Forest (JB), in Woodsville, NH. The three sites represent a gradient of soil fertility, with JB being the most fertile, HB intermediate, and BEF being the least fertile.

For more information visit:

Relevant papers: