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Bard College at Simon’s Rock physics professor Eric Kramer was recently awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation, becoming the first post-doctoral researcher in the College’s history. The NSA grant bolsters support that Kramer has garnered for his work with wood grain patterns, and ensures several more years of funding. From 2003 to 2006 Kramer’s research, which apply physics methodology to biological processes, was supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The NSA support comes at the heels of having his findings appear in the prestigious academic journal Science this spring, and reported by the USDA this fall.

Eric, Ann, SatvikKramer described the grant as “an honor,” and says it will support further research into his latest area of expertise, studying the mechanisms of chemical transport within and through plant roots.

“It’s a great way to popularize our science curriculum,” says the College's dean of academic affairs, Samuel Ruhmkorff. “It’s going to get people’s attention.  And, it’s going to bolster the applications of our students who apply to grad school or for positions at research labs.” Rumhkorff noted that scientists like Kramer, “who are as passionate about their research as they are about teaching,” make the College an exciting place to learn about science and mathematics. Like other math and science faculty engaged in active research, Kramer recruits Simon’s Rock students to work with him as research assistants on his projects—Satvik Beri, Michael Borkowski, Matthew Borkowski, Laura Ann Burchfield, and Brenda Mathisen were all listed as co-authors on his recent Science publication.

Kramer’s approach to his groundbreaking research is as interesting as the findings themselves. A trained physicist, he turned to biology in the late 1990s when a photograph of a tree’s wood grain patterns sparked a previously unnoticed connection. Kramer recalled similar patterns from studying physics. Correlating the development of wood grain patterns with liquid crystal and magnetic field patterns, Kramer applied the methodologies of his physics research to the then-unfamiliar field of biology. This approach had Kramer and his students programming computer simulations to explain the formation of wood grain patterns in trees and confirming their hypotheses with observations in the field, eventually leading to a new understanding of how trees heal themselves.

In the photo: Students Ann Burchfield and Satvik Beri conduct field research with Eric Kramer at Hopkins Memorial Forest in Williamstown, MA.