Using Drones to Help Forests Thrive

Illinois Tech Student Sydney Kaplan’s Work Part of Global Conservation Efforts


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My name is Sydney Kaplan, and I am a fourth-year studying mechanical engineering at Illinois Institute of Technology. And I work in a research fellowship between Illinois Tech and the Morton Arboretum.

I’m developing a drone that will be able to take samples from tree canopies, and these canopies can be really high in the sky. And they’re relatively inaccessible from scientists on the ground.

So current methods of getting samples from trees includes slingshots, forklifts, or climbing the tree, and they all have their drawback. And so by using a drone to get these samples, we’ll be able to be more precise—it’ll be simpler, less time-consuming. The end goal is to be able to keep our trees healthier. We want our large trees to remain healthy because they suck up the most carbon from the atmosphere.

One of the great things about working at the Morton Arboretum and at Illinois Tech is that I can use my engineering degree to be a champion of the trees, and really feel like we’re making a difference there. I think Illinois Tech is a place where you can really take your passions and do a lot with it.

I’m a Camras scholar; it’s a full-tuition scholarship. It’s really important because you know that you will be able to afford your education, and the scholarship lasts all four years. And so those opportunities have been amazing, and I don’t think those are the type of opportunities you get at bigger schools. It makes Illinois Tech a place where they really care about your future.

What drives me is doing work that’s impactful. I want my engineering degree to be used to make a difference and while getting samples from trees for tree scientists may seem really small, it’s part of a global conservation effort. This work, and the science that’s going into it, can really lead to remarkable discoveries, and I think it’s going to make a big impact in the world of trees.