Rooted in Reality at the Tree Physiology Lab

Jordan Luff works in the tree lab

Forest Management major Jordan Luff is a research assistant at the Tree Physiology Lab located on campus in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources. In his spare time between research and studying, he’s also an Engaging Leader, a member of both the student chapter of the Society of American Foresters (SAF), where he’s heading up the Christmas Wreath fundraiser that supports student attendance at SAF conventions, and the Student Association of Fire Ecology, which is new to NC State. Find out why Luff finds hands-on undergraduate research essential to his educational experience, especially for students considering graduate school.

What is the Tree Physiology lab? The Tree Physiology Lab is where Dr. John King and a team of post-grad researchers and grad students study the physiological processes of trees and forest ecosystems, how these processes are affected by certain conditions (i.e. climatic effects, forest management effects, etc.), and how these processes affect the way we manage forests and forest stands. 

What do you do as a research assistant? As a student of Forest Management, and a lover of trees, I am fascinated by the physiological aspects of trees and believe that a better understanding of these processes and characteristics will lead me to be a better Forest Manager. As well, I plan on getting my Master’s degree here at State, and I figured this would be a great opportunity to preemptively gain some scientific research skills. Currently, I assist post-grad researcher Xuefeng Li sorting through soil samples he takes from the Hoffman Forest, separating root matter into four categories: live absorptive, live constructive, dead absorptive, and dead constructive.

Why is the research you’re doing important? What is the future impact? Xuefeng’s research goal is to study the fine root standing biomass, its temporal change, production, mortality and decomposition in a pine plantation forest and a wetland forest. Sorting out fine roots based on the vitality (live and dead fine roots) and functions (absorptive and constructive roots) and assessing their dynamics could better reflect the below-ground carbon distribution and cycling processes.

What do you enjoy most about your research position? It gives me an opportunity to gain firsthand experience in the research process, thus preparing me for when I start grad school. As well, I get to work at my own pace and listen to music while I’m sorting roots. Getting paid helps too.

Have you completed any other internships, undergraduate research, study abroad or other hands-on experiences? When I was at Haywood Community College, I held internships with Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy (CMLC), a nonprofit land trust, and Holmes Education State Forest, both based out of Henderson County. For CMLC, I was tasked with invasive species control at an 8-acre mountain bog they owned, which was a labor intensive ordeal, but highly rewarding. The primary invasive species there was reed canary grass, and it was forming dense mats across the wetland, draining water from the bog and replacing the native flora and fauna species. We also spent time on the side treating eastern hemlocks at various sites with predator beetles that attack the invasive, exotic insect hemlock woolly adelgid, which has been responsible for the devastation of eastern hemlock across its natural range in the U.S. For Holmes, I worked with Education Forester Amy Kinsella to GPS their entire trail system and then create an updated, detail map for their guests using ArcGIS software.

What has your student experience been like in the College of Natural Resources? Thus far, my experience has been great. The professors are not only incredibly knowledgeable in their field, but very helpful to each student who puts in the time and effort to learn and succeed. I decided to come here after getting my AAS in Forest Management Technology at Haywood Community College because I wanted to get my Bachelor’s and continue on to my Master’s.

What do you enjoy most about being a College of Natural Resources student? The sense of community, even across the departments. Everyone, even at the student level, is very supportive and warm. Being part of this college also carries a prestige that is unmatched in the realm of Natural Resources.

Would you recommend Forest Management to incoming students? As long as you have a love for the outdoors and a passion for contributing to the sustainable use and restoration of our natural lands, I would highly suggest Forest Management to incoming students. There are so many different aspects of Forestry that one can follow, whether it’s working in the industry or public agency (managing land, consulting or procurement, technical work, etc.), fighting wildfires and conducting burns, conducting scientific research, working with land trusts to protect and conserve natural lands, working in water quality and/or soil erosion control … even working for a prestigious university such as NC State!

Any advice to incoming students thinking about your major? Make sure you’re ready to study, study, study. Stay ahead of the pack (pun intended), be prepared for studying science and math in depth, but know that applying those concepts to your field of study makes learning them much easier.

How has your hands-on experiences prepared you for life after graduation? The hands-on, in-field experiences I’ve had, both in school and via internships, is preparing me for entering the professional realm as a highly experienced employee. As well, being involved in various groups/organizations within the College of Natural Resources has the added bonus of preparing me to be a professional and to be able to work in the professional realm with others, in a team-setting and in leadership roles.

Anything else you would like to say about your student experiences? I feel incredibly privileged and grateful to be where I’m at and hope the future of this program and the College of Natural Resources as a whole continues to grow and diversify as it grows. One thing I have had the opportunity to do as a student is volunteer to speak to potential incoming students at the College of Natural Resources Open House and Pathways Visitation Day, where I get to encourage young people of all backgrounds to look into Forest Management as a potential academic career. These events have been a great experience for me to not only practice speaking to the public, but also getting to sing the college’s praises and encourage young people to join our programs.