Closing ceremony to honor the participatory research project SURVIVORS

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What exactly causes trees to die? This question has become increasingly important in the current context of global climatic changes and it is precisely what some 80 middle school students from the Collège C-M Duvivier d’Einville-au-Jard have spent three years trying to answer. Working alongside researchers from the INRA Nancy-Lorraine center, these students have played an active role in the participatory research project called SURVIVORS, a project supported by two additional partners, the Laboratory of Excellence ARBRE and the local Center for Environmental Initiatives CPIE Nancy-Champenoux.

In 2014, researchers working on this specific question invited local middle school students to take part in a large scale experiment with the view of testing two primary hypotheses to explain how trees die when exposed to certain hazards: they either die of hunger due to depletion of their carbohydrate reserves generated by their leaves, or they die of thirst after an irreversible failure of circulation transporting xylem sap from the soil to the leaves.

Nearly 1,000 young beech trees from seeds harvested from forests in southern and northern Lorraine were planted 10 years ago in a specially designed nursery at the INRA Center in Champenoux where they were covered by a 500 square meter roof specially designed to intercept rain and to control the water supply. The experiment was designed to follow the growth and survivability of the beech trees in three contrasting conditions: watered beech trees without leaves removed (as the control), unwatered beech trees, and watered beech trees with leaves removed. Over a period of three years, the students followed the progress of this experiment as researchers. Each student was assigned their “own” beech tree to sponsor which they would monitor throughout the experiment; specifically this meant tracking its growth and conducting leaf removal each spring. They learned how to take precise measurements, attended workshop presentations where they learned about scientific methods specific to their experiment, but also about the diverse range of jobs and professions in the scientific community, and what kind of training is required to enter these professions. The final step for these young researchers was formatting and analyzing their results — and to try to answer the original question.

These students are now preparing to finish their third year (or last year of middle-school). To thank them for their participation and to celebrate with them for having been awarded several prizes (two being the 2015 Science and Society Prize awarded by the Lorraine Regional Council and the 2016 Prize for Academic Innovation), a ceremony was held on June 16 on site at the Collège d’Einville-au-Jard.

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