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Published on February 24, 2017

Student researches tea plantation loss

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — For Zongjun Li, a junior majoring in geography at Penn State, the chance to explore real-life opportunities with his degree is what drives him as an undergraduate student.

“It’s important to me to take the knowledge from our textbooks and bring it to life out in the real world,” Li said.

Raised in Guangzhou, China, Li, who is majoring in geographic information science (GIS), has always been fascinated by the applications of the geography major.

“I think people don’t always know just how many different areas you can explore and conduct research in with a geography degree,” he said.

Li was introduced to some of the research opportunities during a new student recruiting meeting at the Tea Institute at Penn State.

Located in 34 Ritenour Building on the University Park campus, the Tea Institute, which is composed of the Tea House and the Research Institute, aims to teach and preserve all aspects of tea culture and science by serving as the foremost center of tea knowledge in the English-speaking world.

“The Tea Institute is split into three main branches: Korean, Chinese and Japanese,” said Li, who is now the executive director of the Tea Institute. “Each branch collaborates with different institutions like the Gunagzhou Academy of Fine Arts (China), the Cha Ren Ya Xin Culture and Arts Association (Taiwan), Inje University (South Korea), and Urasenka and Omotsenke (Japan), and hosts events to educate the Penn State community about tea culture.”

The Tea House also serves hand-picked teas to the public during the week. The revenue generated by this is then used to fund undergraduate research opportunities within the Tea Institute.

“We encourage our members to become so-called ‘advanced members’ by passing a series of requirements,” Li said.

The requirements include taking an examination and conducting research, which, for Li, focuses on analyzing tea plantations across the world.

“I’ve been trying to develop a model that can identify the tea plantations from various vegetation,” said Li. “Right now, we’re trying to calibrate the model to apply it to all the plantations in Taiwan specifically. Sometimes the model confuses tea plantations with other vegetation in the vicinity, and we want to be better at refining data. We’re planning to take into account other changes in landscape, such as landslides and reforestations, so that we will have a more comprehensive and accurate understanding of the shrinkage of tea plantations in the area.”

Li’s research is important for understanding the environmental impacts of soil erosion caused by overplanting in Taiwan.

Li has been conducting his research under the guidance of Guido Cervone, associate professor of geography and associate director for the Institute for CyberScience.

“Dr. Cervone and I have been conducting most of our research at the Institute of Cyberscience at Penn State, but I visited Taiwan during the past two winter breaks to collect field data,” said Li. “I’ve enjoyed using my skills from the classroom to dig into questions and problems. I can always find out something new.”

Li has enjoyed the ability to share his research through the Tea Institute.

“It has been a really wonderful experience working on this research with the help of the Tea Institute,” he said. “Hopefully this will take us to a new understanding of how tea plantation evolution correlates with its environment, and what factors policymakers should take into account to protect our world.”

Visitors can learn more about tea culture and sample tea at the Penn State Tea House in 34 Ritenour from noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Friday.

Penn State Institute for CyberScience

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