Jess Gersony is a plant physiologist, artist, and educator. She is passionate about exploring human-planet interactions through both scientific and artistic inquiry, and strives to do this work through an intersectional, social justice lens. The ultimate goals of her work are to increase and deepen our awareness of (and relationship to) the natural world, to further diversity, equity and inclusion in STEM spaces, and to improve our understanding of how plants are responding to climate change. Scientifically, she investigates the physiological processes underpinning how plants interact with the changing climate around them. In parallel, she explores topics related to water and carbon movement, environmental change, time and relationships (between people, other organisms, and places) in her poetic practice. She was also a member of professional tap dance companies in NYC and Boston, and has taught tap dancing to hundreds of students in the greater Philadelphia area (mentored by Darrell Williams, who is a protégé of LaVaughn Robinson). Additionally, she is passionate about re-imagining what STEM classes and research environments can look like and learning about/implementing equity-based pedagogical practices.
To integrate across these interests and explore how they can all inform one another, she has formed the PLACE (PLant physiology, Art, and Community Engagement) Lab at Smith College. The lab investigates questions related to plants and climate change, such as: How does carbon movement inside a plant change during drought? How could this shift in carbon movement lead to plant mortality or limited photosynthesis in times of environmental stress? Are some northeastern US tree species more drought resilient than others? What might northeastern US forests look like in the coming decades? Members of the PLACE Lab are also encouraged to pursue and present sci-art projects and identify ways to include community engagement in all aspects of research and art-making (specifically communities historically excluded from STEM spaces). Current community engagement initiatives are: a collaboration with Holyoke Community College and the City of Holyoke on Holyoke's Urban Forest Equity Plan projects, and a collaboration with Alabama A&M University on investigating the drought and cold resilience of Eastern US forests.
Selected Scientific articles
Gersony, J.T., McClelland, A. and Holbrook, N.M., 2021. Raman spectroscopy reveals high phloem sugar content in leaves of canopy red oak trees. New Phytologist, 232(1), pp.418-424.
Gersony, J.T., Hochberg, U., Rockwell, F.E., Park, M., Gauthier, P.P. and Holbrook, N.M., 2020. Leaf carbon export and nonstructural carbohydrates in relation to diurnal water dynamics in mature oak trees. Plant Physiology, 183(4), pp.1612-1621.
Gersony, J.T. and Holbrook, N.M., Phloem turgor is maintained during severe drought in Ricinus communis. Plant, Cell & Environment.
Author, “Ancient Tillites.” The Sycamore Review 32.1 (2021).