Assistant Professor of Botany
Joined Connecticut College: 2010
B.S., University of Massachusetts-Amherst; M.S., Oregon State University; Ph.D., Harvard University
Aging in trees
Wood structure and function
Dr. Spicer is interested in how woody plants adapt, evolve, and survive in different environments. Research in her lab is focused on the biology of trees, shrubs and lianas – anything with a large woody stem – and includes projects on how woody stems develop, age, and transport water to the leaves.
She taught a new course on plant-derived sources of fuel (BOT 496 Biofuels) in the fall of 2010.
Trees face particular challenges as plants because of their long lives and massive plant bodies. Professor Spicer became interested in how the structure of wood affects its ability to transport water when she was a forestry student, and developed a new technique to measure water movement through woody tissue. She then went on to consider how tree stems age in some local New England species like hemlock, maple, oak and pine by looking at the physiology of living cells deep inside the stem – cells that in some cases may live for over one hundred years!
More recently, she has been studying wood development using the molecular model species Populus, which belongs to the poplar, aspen and cottonwood family of plants. She was recently invited to speak at a symposium on wood development at the 2010 IUFRO (International Union of Forest Organizations) Conference in Madison, Wisconsin about her work in Populus and the plant hormone auxin.
Work in Professor Spicer’s lab always seems to involve developing a new technique to measure or see something that no one has ever measured or seen before. If you are an undergraduate who likes to tinker, build things, learn new techniques, and experiment in the true sense of the word, Professor Spicer encourages you to please stop by New London Hall and say hello.
Visit the botany department website.
"I love plants and figuring out how they work, but I think I love tree biology in particular because of the challenges large trees present, and the diversity of tools that we employ. Plus, I get to use power tools. Some days begin by hiking around the woods with liquid nitrogen. By lunch I’m using a miter saw, and by dinner I’ve extracted RNA from 20-yr-old cells. It’s a dream job! " - Rachel Spicer