UI professor's Paper 2 Tree project aims to grow an academic forest


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A University of Illinois professor is encouraging his colleagues to give back to their communities — trees included.

Mattia Gazzola, assistant professor in UI's Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering, just launched Paper 2 Tree — a project for UI researchers to fund local tree planting and provide educational outreach once their papers get published.

The idea is to replenish forestation after using it to research, write and edit an academic paper. Gazzola said that process can sometimes take several years. He has had around 20 papers published in academic journals throughout his career.

Participants will submit their published papers to the project and choose a group to plant a tree in the nearest spring or fall. Gazzola said it costs around $300 to cover the tree and the labor to plant and maintain it for 10 years.

The four groups that will pick and plant the trees are Urbana and Champaign's public works departments and park districts. Gazzola said he'll see how everything goes for a few months before trying expansion to surrounding areas and other states.

"I just got an email from a UI alum in California who's thinking of doing a similar thing after the Napa Valley wildfires," Gazzola said. He's also in contact with local non-academic groups that are willing to provide something else in place of a paper.

It doesn't stop at physical trees — there's an interactive map on the project's website, where each planting location is marked. The two on there were planted at a kickoff event last week.

The map will connect every tree to its sponsor and research paper in a process called geo-location, according to Julia Stackler, assistant director of communications in Gazzola's department.

The project's educational outreach aspect is optional but emphasized, Gazzola said, in an effort to avoid "a research bubble completely separated from society."

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