Rutgers graduate student Aspa Chatziefthimiou loves the woods—and microbes—and she’s found a quiet way to share her excitement with visitors to a very old forest.
Aspa Chatiziefthimiou spoke with Nadine Selim of RU-tv about the Hutcheson Memorial Forest and its importance.
Our Forest Primeval
One of the last uncut forests in the Mid-Atlantic states, the 26-hectare Mettler’s Woods and the lands that surround it make up Rutgers’ Hutcheson Memorial Forest, one of the most intensively studied areas in North America. The forest is known worldwide for long-term ecological, botanical, and zoological research; study conducted at the forest has resulted in more than 250 scientific publications.
While the old forest was maintained without exploitation by descendants of a group of Dutch settlers, the adjacent lands were plowed or pastured for several hundred years. Among the most important features of the Hutcheson Memorial Forest, located in East Amwell, about seven miles from the Rutgers–New Brunswick Campus, are the contrasts between the old forest and the surrounding land that has been so strongly affected by humans.
The public is welcome on the regularly scheduled tours given on Sundays throughout the year. Tours, led by Rutgers University faculty and student volunteer guides, such as Aspa, are between one to two hours in length. Learn more.
After a childhood spent among the dry pine groves of the Mediterranean, Aspa was amazed by the leafy green forest of North America when she came here at age 18.
“I really get a kick out of studying how bacteria with a certain gene can change one form of mercury to the less toxic elemental form. And I think the research could really help develop some useful applications someday, such as bioremediation of contaminated sites.”
Guide on a Mission
Public tours of the Hutcheson Memorial Forest each have a theme. The theme of Aspa’s? You guessed it: microbes.
As they walk softly through one of the Mid-Atlantic’s last undisturbed patches of forest, visitors learn about microbes’ role in breaking down organic matter and replenishing the soil.
“Most people think of microbes as pathogens that make people sick. This is not the truth. That’s only about 1% of these types of organisms. I want to help people see them from a different perspective. Bacteria recycle the elements. They live in places we can’t,” Aspa says.
Her hope is that people will consider these microscopic creatures with new respect and share her appreciation of their silent work: “Microbes are just marvelous. I live in awe of microbes and what they can do. I am humbled by these one-celled organisms.”