Busting Beetles: Elementary Students Make Forest-Saving Prototypes With UIdaho Professor

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Janice Wessner

Busting destructive beetles from Idaho’s forests is no easy feat, but students at Lena Whitmore Elementary in Moscow are up to the task.

When Randall Brooks, UI Extension professor of forestry, visited the school in January 2023 to teach about natural resource management, the students learned that bark beetles are infesting local trees and eating through them. This kills the trees by cutting off their transport of nutrients.

The students learned that the problem lies in natural resource management. The bark beetles are not an invasive species, but in forests that are packed too tightly together, weaker trees do not have enough resources to produce resin to fight off bark beetles.

“Dr. Brooks told us about many things,” the students wrote. “There are billions of trees in danger and not enough pheromones for all of them. And there are not enough pheromone holders to keep them on the trees.”

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Bark beetles signal to other beetles that the tree is fully occupied by producing chemical pheromones.

“It’s like a motel no-vacancy sign being lit up,” said Brooks, who also noted that the pheromones could be created synthetically.

One solution to the students’ mission is to make containers to house synthetic pheromones and attach them to valuable and susceptible trees to protect the trees.

After more than a month of research on how to reproduce the pheromones, the students created a 3D-printed leaf prototype that would hold anti-aggregate pheromone pouches in them, helping to keep bark beetles away from trees.

The students showcased their work at the Idaho Exhibition of Ideas at the ISUB in March 2023, and were joined by another award-winning group of Lena-Whitmore students, the “Lena Salmon Spinners.” The bark beetle team won third place overall while the Spinners won a Student Choice Award for their group projects.

Focusing on the decrease of the salmon population due to global warming, the Salmon Spinners came up with an idea of another 3D-printed prototype, a log-like model with holes. This prototype is a spinning device that would rupture the water, putting oxygen into the water.

“All the students were buzzing about their ideas. One student asked if Dr. Brooks would still be teaching when she got to college because she wants to have them as her professor,” said Janice Weesner, Extended Learning Facilitator at Lena Whitmore and West Park Elementary in Moscow.

“This is a great recruiting opportunity. When we can catch these bright students at a young age and get them fired about the University of Idaho and learning about managing natural resources sustainably, they’ll remember it and be excited about learning and going to college to help protect the environment,” Brooks said.

Article by Kelsey Evans, CNR Writer.

Photos provided by Janice Wessner.

Published in April 2023.

Published in January 2023.

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