LaserBark measures bark microrelief

A new instrument can provide information about the biological and physiological characteristics of trees that will yield valuable information for forest scientists and ecologists.

An invention by a University of Delaware (UD) doctoral student can provide information about the biological and physiological characteristics of trees that will yield valuable information for forest scientists and ecologists.

The LaserBark, an automated instrument for the measurement of bark microrelief, was developed by John Van Stan, a PhD candidate in geography, in conjunction with his adviser, associate professor Delphis Levia, and a mechanical engineering consultant, Matthew Jarvis.

The work grew out of Van Stan’s master’s thesis on the effects of bark microrelief on stemflow production. At the time, no instrument existed that could yield a high-resolution profile of bark microrelief, but Levia was aware of an earlier instrument developed by a botanist and lichenologist in the late 1960s that could be adapted and improved upon for Van Stan’s work, and suggested to him that he develop a prototype instrument.

Van Stan said: ‘The (new) device can supply high-resolution measurements of bark microstructure, which can be used to examine lichen and bryophyte distribution and relate changes in bark microrelief to disease, for example, beech bark disease, or stem dehydration.’

A provisional patent application claiming the device has been filed and is pending at the US Patent Office, and the UD Office of Economic Innovation and Partnerships is seeking to commercialise it through patent licensing and associated collaborative research and development.

The LaserBark currently has only surface characterisation capacity, so further work is needed to broaden its capabilities as well as its potential applications, which include non-destructive assessment of corrosion in pipes and other similar objects.

The results of Van Stan’s thesis have been published in Ecohydrology, and a manuscript on the LaserBark will appear in IEEE Transactions on Instrumentation and Measurement later this year.

Van Stan received an Outstanding Student Paper Award for the work at the 2009 American and Canadian Geophysical Unions’ Joint Assembly in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He will receive the award at the December 2009 AGU conference in San Francisco.

The LaserBark device measures bark microrelief