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Forman News

Student-Researchers Shine at Dissertation Day
Posted 05/11/2016 01:51PM

Visit Costa Rica: check. Encounter rare and endangered wildlife: check. Collect data for the scientific community: check. In just about two short months, the Forman School Rainforest Project has accomplished all of these and more. And on Dissertation Day, students from Forman and Wamogo Regional High School presented their findings to the world.

The event, which took place on Friday, May 6, was held in Johnson Art Center and was also LIVE streamed online. Rainforest Project Director Wendy Welshans has hosted this event for over 20 years, but each year, the findings stun and amaze not only the audience, but the greater academic community. This year was no exception.

Ms. Welshans started by welcoming the many guests who were in attendance and introduced the 2016 Rainforest Project video. She also told the audience some of the factors that made this year unique, such as the fact that the group was able to text and interact from their remote location for the first time ever. They were able to interact with students at Goshen Center School and answer questions.

Will Dietrich ’16 and Davis Ebbert ’16 began the presentations by discussing their important work with spider silk. This strong, elastic substance can be used for surgical sutures or elastic ligaments or even in protective clothing or armor. Ebbert and Dietrich reported they were able to track spiders and collect a megasample, the largest amount ever in the Rainforest Project: 24,000 feet with strengths of samples reaching over 54 newtons. Additionally, the group will present to Dr. Michael Ben-Eli, Founder of Sustainability Labs in New York City, and will ask for advice on how to hand this project over to universities. Once a university is involved, more people can become aware, start their own colonies, and more can be produced, benefitting as many people as possible.

The Mammal Team, which had not been active since 2001, made a comeback this year.  Caroline Herdje ’16 and Maureen Harris ’16 focused on mammal tracking and trapping. The two created and collected plaster footprint moulds, captured video of animals on HD Bushnell Aggressor trail cameras, and were able to catch and measure multiple bats and opossums. Several CITES listed Appendix I mammals on the internationally endangered species list were spotted, such as the Baird’s Tapir, ocelot, and the white lipped peccary. The hope for next year is for Forman’s group to obtain an accelerometer and capture the first ever 3D images of how mammals move in the rainforest. Harris explained that because of the Rainforest Project, she will be studying the similarities between mammals and humans in college next year.

Next, Anna Lees ’16 and Kammer Tyson ’16 presented on an array of beautiful neotropical and migrant birds. They caught and banded the birds, and also focused on recapturing. Finding the tagged birds is valuable because it allows researchers to monitor the health of a population of birds. The two talked about the process of capturing the birds with a nearly invisible net and Tyson noted the importances of treating the creatures with care.

The Reptiles and Amphibians Team’s Max Gamblin ’16 and Allison Herdje ’16 studied the chytrid fungus that is wiping out reptile and amphibian populations worldwide. They will be providing this to a doctoral candidate, Alex Shepack at the Southern Illinois University. Furthermore, the two partnered with researcher and biologist Dr. Twan Leenders, collecting information on the metamorph, coral mimic, and Sicilian frogs to help him complete his next book. Gamblin and Herdje caught the frogs with their hands, and managed to study 61 species and over 100 frogs, including the extremely rare spiny-headed tree frog.

Finally, Aidan Keilty, Zachary LaRocca-Stravalle ’16, and Patrick Silver of the Bioacoustics Team presented on obtaining samples to be added to Cornell University’s Macaulay Library, which has the largest collection of bird sounds in the world. They used cutting edge equipment such as a parabolic dish and shotgun microphone to record the audio of birds such as the green kingfisher, turkey vulture, pacific screech-owl, and bare-crowned antbird. The antbird, in particular, is very rare and the Macaulay Library currently has only 15 recordings of it.

Congratulations to the 2016 Rainforest team on a job well done! Your research and hard work shows that high school students can make a difference across our planet.

Sponsors for the 2016 Rainforest Program include Smart Family Foundation, Costco Wholesale, Nalgene, GoPro, Patagonia, Glacier Computer, GoPole, Luann Mullen Workroom, and Farrell Precision Metal Craft Corporation.

See photos from Dissertation Day here.

View the video stream of Dissertation Day here.

Read the team’s blog at and follow their Twitter account @formanrainfrst.

Check out some of the full reports below:


Forman School
12 Norfolk Road, P.O. Box 80, Litchfield, CT 06759
Phone: 860.567.8712
Fax: 860.567.8317


Forman School is a coeducational, preparatory boarding and day school for grades 9-PG exclusively dedicated to empowering bright students who learn differently.




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