Year: Rising senior Major: Environmental geology, Russian language, political science
Kyle Rickert has always had an affinity for learning about the Earth, its innerworkings, and how humans have interacted with it throughout history. Unlike some who are drawn to these topics after reading science fiction and the like, Rickert drew his inspiration from a more unusual source: low water quality. Specifically, the low water quality of his hometown.
A rising senior at Case Western Reserve University studying environmental geology, Russian, and political science, Rickert recently combined his passion for our planet with his other interests—working with his hands and being amongst nature—as a part of his senior capstone project.
Rickert has been researching how to quantifiably measure the effects that Beech-Leaf Disease has had on the trees of CWRU’s University Farm (and in Northeast Ohio in general). Essentially, there is a parasitic nematode that has infected around 7% of beech trees in the region that deteriorates their health, and thus their water-use efficiency.
In order to measure this, Rickert has built two different sap-flux sensors that employ separate ways to measure temperature inside the Xylem (where the sap flows) of any tree. By measuring temperature in two different locations, Rickert can calculate the rate at which water is flowing through the Xylem—and support his hypothesis that Beech-Leaf Disease is causing a decrease in individual tree transpiration (the process in which water vapor is exhaled to the atmosphere).
“My hope for this project—and that of my mentor, Dr. Mark Green—is that it can set the precedence for further long-term deployments of sap-flux instrumentation at the University Farm,” Rickert explained. “There are several meteorological measurements that are taken at the farm on a consistent basis, but it would be very interesting to see the rates of sap-flow over time as it pertains to Beech-Leaf Disease.”
After Rickert graduates this coming spring, he hopes to pursue a career in hydrology and water preservation. He’s also found an interest in video production and camera operating in the last few years, thanks to his job at the Maltz Performing Arts Center, and plans on exploring that interest separately.
Outside of his research and on-campus work, most of Rickert’s free time is spent with a few student-run theater groups, primarily CWRU Footlighters.