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Arnold Arboretum

Instructors Bios Archive

March 2013


Susan Freinkel is a science writer whose work has appeared in a variety of national publications including: Discover, Reader’s Digest, Smithsonian, The New York Times, OnEarth, Health, and Real Simple. A graduate of Wesleyan University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Freinkel began her career as a reporter at the Wichita Eagle-Beacon in Wichita, Kansas, exploring  such diverse issues as: AIDS in the heartland, the precarious state of rural hospitals, the brain drain from Kansas, and the changing nature of families. In 1989, Freinkel moved to San Francisco and began covering legal affairs and the business of law for The Recorder newspaper and American Lawyer magazine.

In 1998 she joined the staff of Health magazine and started writing about consumer health and medicine. Since 2000, she has worked as a freelance writer based in San Francisco, covering subjects ranging from adoption to weight control, coyote hunts to mad cow disease, new psychiatric treatments to the quest to develop a blue rose – as well as trees and plastic. In 2005, Freinkel was awarded an Alicia Patterson Fellowship, which allowed her to conduct much of the research for her book, American Chestnut, which won a 2008 National Outdoor Book Award. She will speak at the Arnold Arboretum on March 11 at 7:00pm on the topic of her book, Plastic: A Toxic Love Story, which was selected as a Best Book 2011: Non-fiction by The Boston Globe.

February 2013


James Hanken is the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology, Curator in Herpetology, and Director of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University. He received A.B. and Ph.D. degrees in zoology from the University of California, Berkeley. After a postdoctoral stint at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada, he assumed a faculty position at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He moved to Harvard in 1999, where he is also Professor of Biology in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and a faculty member of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard Medical School. Dr. Hanken’s research focuses on the evolutionary morphology, development and systematics of vertebrates, especially amphibians. His laboratory maintains active field programs in Africa, Asia, and Central and South America and is very active in the Encyclopedia of Life, and especially EOL’s Learning + Education group, which is based at MCZ. He has authored more than 100 scientific publications and edited four books, and he is an accomplished nature and scientific photographer. His photographs appear in several books, field guides, and magazines, including Natural History, Geo, Audubon, and National Geographic World. Dr. Hanken is a member of the U.S. National Committee for the International Union of Biological Sciences and a member of the Board of Directors for the American Institute of Biological Sciences.

On February 25, as part of the Director’s Lecture Series, Dr. Hanken addressed the current state of biodiversity and how the scientific community is responding to the crisis of species extinction.

January 2013

Credit: Kimberly Drooks Photography

Credit: Kimberly Drooks Photography

Eric Jay Dolin double-majored in biology and environmental studies at Brown University, and followed that with a master’s degree in environmental management from Yale, and a Ph.D. in environmental policy and planning from MIT, where his dissertation focused on the role of the courts in the cleanup of Boston Harbor. He has held a variety of jobs, including stints as a fisheries policy analyst at the National Marine Fisheries Service, a program manager at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, an environmental consultant stateside and in London, an American Association for the Advancement of Science writing fellow at Business Week, and a curatorial assistant in the Mollusk Department at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology.

Throughout his career, one thing has remained constant—he enjoys writing and sharing the stories that he finds most intriguing. His book, When America First Met China: An Exotic History of Tea, Drugs, and Money in the Age of Sail (Liveright, September 2012), was chosen by Kirkus Reviews as one of the ten best non-fiction books of Fall 2012. His other highly acclaimed books are Fur, Fortune, and Empire: the Epic History of the Fur Trade in America (W. W. Norton, 2010) and Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America (W. W. Norton, 2007).

Eric spoke on the topic of When America First Met China on January 29 at the Arboretum.

November 2012

Brian Farrell

Brian Farrell is a Professor of Biology and Curator in Entomology with the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University. He hails from northern Vermont where from a young age he was curious about the variety of life he saw outdoors. As an undergraduate student at the University of Vermont, he took every field course offered, from geology to botany, mycology, ornithology, mammalogy, and entomology. As a graduate student at the University of Maryland and the Smithsonian, Brian spent more than a year in the Amazon, and collected beetles throughout Mexico and the southwestern United States for his dissertation. He married a UMD graduate student from the Dominican Republic, where the Museum of Comparative Zoology has a long history of exploration; these days they spend their summers there, roaming the mountains and coasts with their children and extended family. As a faculty member, first at the University of Colorado and for the past 18 years at Harvard, Brian has offered field experiences with his courses, including trips to the Dominican Republic, and locally to Plum Island and the Boston Harbor Islands. His lecture on Thursday, November 29, Audio Ecology: Acoustic Signals in Insects, draws from his spring freshman seminar called “Why we animals sing (the ways we do),” which integrates evolutionary and community ecology with conservation and human biology, including the evolution of music, our own acoustic signal. Read more about Brian and the work of the Farrell Lab.

October 2012

Daniel Chamovitz

Daniel Chamovitz is the director of the Manna Center for Plant Biosciences at Tel Aviv University, Israel. His scientific career has been characterized by novel and field-defining research. He discovered the COP9 Signalosome protein complex proposed as a master regulator of plant development. His lab was the first to show that the COP9 Signalosome is also essential in animal development. His lab is spearheading the study of this important protein complex and has shown that it is likely involved in a number of human diseases including cancer.

Beyond the laboratory, Danny is passionate about teaching, and especially in developing a modern undergraduate curriculum for the plant sciences. He has been awarded outstanding lecturer at Tel Aviv University several times. He also volunteers as a teacher in a local junior high school and lectures to groups about the role of plant biology in feeding a growing world.

On October 10th Danny presented What a Plant Knows, an intriguing and refreshing look at how plants experience the world. He provided answers to questions such as “How does a plant know up from down? How do flowers know when it’s spring? Can they actually remember the weather? And do they care if you play them Led Zeppelin or Bach?

September 2012

Kim Smith draws on over twenty years’ experience as an interior and garden designer. She attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and Massachusetts College of Art. She branched from designing couture clothing to costumes, which led to film and television set design. She is a keen observer of the natural world, which she documents through writing, illustration, photography, and film. She is the author of Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!

Kim has a passion for flowers and butterflies and specializes in creating gardens for people and pollinators (butterflies, hummingbirds, songbirds, and bees). She most recently collaborated with Cambridge Seven Associates in creating the horticultural master plan for Gloucester’s new Harbor Walk. This September at the Arboretum, Kim is teaching Nature in Focus: Taking Great Close-ups.

July 2012

Diane Edgecomb and Margot Chamberlain at the base of Hemlock Hill. (Photo: Pamela Ruby Russell)

Diane Edgecomb is an award-winning storyteller, author and experimental theater artist who lives in Boston, Massachusetts. Diane presents a variety of experiential workshops for both seasoned and novice storytellers and is a leader in nature-based and environmental storytelling. She has created numerous original stories as well as carefully adapted myths and legends from cultures around the world. Her performances accompanied by Margot Chamberlain combine rich story material with a carefully orchestrated underscoring of original and traditional music. Diane and Margot have been featured on National Public Radio as well as nationwide at theatres, festivals, coffeehouses and nature centers for over twenty years. For further information on these unique performances please visit the website at

In its 11th year, In the Groves: A Summer Solstice Journey is a compilation of myths and songs about the human connection with trees and the environment. Created by Diane specifically for the Arnold Arboretum, this storytelling performance travels across the Arboretum landscape, leading participants on a meandering and contemplative journey. Margot Chamberlain, Celtic harpist, accompanies Diane, creating a unique atmosphere for each story.

June 2012

Transit of Venus

Andrea Wulf was born in India and moved to Germany as a child. She currently lives in Britain, where she trained as a design historian at the Royal College of Art. She is the author of The Brother Gardeners: Botany, Empire and the Birth of an Obsession and the co-author of This Other Eden: Seven Great Gardens and 300 Years of English History. Her book, Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation, was published to great acclaim in spring 2011 and was praised on the New York Times Best Seller List as ‘illuminating and engrossing’. Her most recent book, Chasing Venus, is published in eight countries in conjunction with the last transit of Venus in this century. Andrea has written for The New York Times, the LA Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Sunday Times, the Guardian, and other publications. Read a review in The Boston Globe.

May 2012


Charles Waldheim is the John E. Irving Professor of Landscape Architecture and Chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture, Graduate School of Design, at Harvard University. He is also Consulting Curator of Landscape with the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

Waldheim teaches design studios and focuses his research at the intersection of landscape and contemporary urbanism, identified as landscape urbanism. He has written extensively on the subject and edited The Landscape Urbanism Reader (Princeton Architectural Press, 2006). He is currently writing the first book-length history of Chicago’s OHare International Airport, entitled Chicago OHare: A Natural and Cultural History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press). His writing has also appeared in Landscape Journal, Topos, Log, Praxis, 306090, Canadian Architect, Dimensions, and Landscape Architecture Magazine.

Before coming to Harvard University, Waldheim was Associate Professor and Director of the Landscape Architecture program at the University of Toronto. He received the Rome Prize Fellowship in Landscape Architecture at the American Academy in Rome in 2006. Waldheim is a licensed architect and principal of Urban Agency, a multi-disciplinary consultancy in design and contemporary urbanism.

April 2012

Dr. Selena Ahmed, our speaker on March 26 for Tea Horse Road, is an ethnobotanist whose research interests lie at the interface of health, culture, and the environment. As a NIH NIGMS IRACDA Postdoctoral Fellow at Tufts University, she is examining the impact of climate change on tea (Camellia sinensis) phytochemistry and associated farmer perceptions and adaptations. Selena is collaborating on this project with faculty in the Departments of Biology and Chemistry and the Schools of Engineering and Nutrition at Tufts. This work builds on her previous research on biodiversity and ethnography of variable tea production systems in China’s southwestern Yunnan Province.

Selena’s research and teaching interests in food and medicinal plant systems have taken her to forest-dwelling communities in the Venezuelan Amazon, Indian Himalaya, Belize, Dominican Republic, Anti-Atlas Mountains of Morocco, and the uplands of Chinaʼs Yunnan Province. She is currently teaching “The Changing Taste of Place: Sensory Ethnography in Boston Foodscapes” at Tufts University and Evolutionary Biology at University of Massachusetts Boston. Selena taught “Eating and the Environment” at Northeastern University in Fall 2011.

View “Steeped in Tradition,” a slideshow of photographs of her study area in southwestern China taken by photographer Michael Freeman for their book Tea Horse Road: China’s Ancient Trade Road to Tibet (2011; River Books).

March 2012

Jack Alexander

Jack Alexander is a third generation nurseryman and the plant propagator of the Arnold Arboretum, a position he has held since 1976. At the age of 6, he began helping his grandparents make cuttings, and he hasn’t stopped since. Jack was named a Fellow of the Eastern Region of the International Plant Propagators’ Society in 1995, and in 2004 received its prestigious Award of Merit. He is also the recipient of the Jackson Dawson Medal from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society.

Jack teaches propagation classes at the Arboretum throughout the year: Propagating Plants from Cuttings and Seeds in the fall; Grafting Ornamental Trees in the winter; and Growing Plants from Seeds in the early spring. In addition to coaxing plants to grow, Jack can be found walking his Siberian huskies, tinkering with his vintage Norton motorcycle, or flying his classic Cessna Skyhawk.

February 2012

James Jiler

James Jiler holds a master’s degree in forestry and social ecology from Yale University and is the former director of The Horticultural Society of New York’s GreenHouse Program, a jail-to-street horticulture program at New York City’s Rikers Island. He is author of the book Doing Time in the Garden (New Village Press, 2006), which details the GreenHouse approach to rehabilitation and explores the role of gardening in jails and prisons around the country.

James moved to Miami in 2008 and founded Urban GreenWorks, which integrates hands-on landscape design, garden installation, and landscape management with at-risk youth and adults in the Florida State criminal justice system. GreenWorks blends science education, horticulture therapy, and vocational training as a means to connect people to nature and their community, both inside and outside prison walls. Projects include the Healthy Communities Initiative which addresses individual, nutritional, and environmental health issues in underserved urban neighborhoods and Hammocks in Da Hood which restores tropical forests unique to Florida in neglected inner-city lots. He gave a talk, Growing Potential: Gardening Behind Bars, on February 28 at Trinity Church.

January 2012

Jen Kettell

Jen Kettell, horticultural technologist at the Arnold Arboretum, works in the dwarf conifer, hickory, and other collections of the Arboretum. Jen is a certified arborist serving on the executive board of the New England Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture. Along with three other women, she is one of the founders of the annual Women’s Tree Climbing Workshop. This 2-day workshop introduces women to safe tree climbing techniques and various types of climbing gear. This winter, Jen teaches Pruning in Winter and leads a snowshoe tour through the dwarf conifer and juniper collections.