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Student research team uses Android app to monitor trees on campus, improve environment

Originally published in The Daily Bruin
By Alexia Boyarsky

Once a week between classes, Jacob Drewisch walks around campus and catalogues trees.

Using an Android application on his phone, the third-year geography student inputs data on the species and condition of trees and uploads them to a website that records their geographic position.

Drewisch is one of five students who are working with the geography department to help UCLA better manage the resources it needs to take care of its trees.

“Some trees are native and some aren’t, and they all require different amounts of care,” Drewisch said. “We are making sure that the school doesn’t waste energy watering trees that don’t need it.”

Working out of a handbook of UCLA trees that was written in the 1960s, the team researches the species of each tree and records it. Currently, about 200 trees on campus have been documented, and more are added each week, Drewisch said.

Although not all of the trees on campus are the same as those in the handbook, many of the same species have remained from the ’60s, he said.

The Android application on which Drewisch and his team record their data was created last year by UCLA researchers and can be downloaded for free online. Called Project Budburst, the application allows users to tag and upload tree locations, as well as view a map with all the trees’ coordinates.

Once it is completed, the application will be used by facilities management to manage the care of trees, Drewisch said.

The application could also be used for planning new buildings and assessing which trees would have to be cut down, he added.

Drewisch and his team are part of Sustainable Living Program’s Action Research Team, which includes 10 small student-run projects each year to make the campus more environmentally friendly, said Uma Bhandaram, communications director for the program.

The research teams participate in a class series that include a fall quarter environment seminar, individual project research during winter quarter and implementation of research plans in the spring.

Other research teams are replacing light bulbs in fraternity houses and at the Wooden Center, as well as researching how to bring fair trade food and beverages to campus.

Another team is working on bringing organic, locally-grown food to the dining halls and will host a food festival on Wednesday. The festival will include free food tastings of organic burgers and vegetarian pastas, said team leader and fourth-year environmental science student Sandra Wittenberg.

All of the teams will give presentations about their projects on May 23 at Kerckhoff Grand Salon.