William Tyminski stands next to a sweet maple tree that is located on UNCG's campus. Tyminski looks at a sample taken from the tree to demonstrate how he gets his samples for his research..

As you pour genuine maple syrup over a plate of French toast or pancakes, chances are you’re thinking only of how good it will taste. But a great deal goes into the production of syrup and the protection of this important industry. Just ask PhD candidate William Tyminski, aka “The Torquemeister.”

William earned the nickname because of all the hand-drilling that is required when taking tree-ring samples from the centers of trees. At any given site, he drills 30 trees two times each. “Between that and all the hiking involved, there’s no need for a gym membership.”

He brings the samples back to UNCG’s Carolina Tree-Ring Science Laboratory in the Department of Geography. The tree rings are then cross dated to verify the age of the tree.

A sustainable industry?

William, who earned his master’s in biology from Georgia State University and studied coral reef ecology in the Florida Keys, is developing a reputation as the go-to man on the subject of sustainability within the maple syrup industry. His dissertation addresses syrup producers’ concerns about a decline and how climate changes may or may not be playing a part.

But his first question is, how significant of a decline in maple production is there really?  “Everyone is basing the decline off of a short period.  With tree rings, you can go further back in time and get a truer historical perspective. I’m able to look at the data differently from everybody else.”

Backed by the National Science Foundation

To conduct his research, William spent time in New York State. Over six trips, he covered more than 2,000 miles. His most recent trip was paid for by a grant from the National Science Foundation, which was coauthored with geography professor and Lab Director, Dr. Paul Knapp. William is one of only a few UNCG students to ever receive NSF funding.

“I was so eager to get this. NSF is the most prestigious funding source. They want your work to affect people, and my research is extremely applied.”  He also attracted the attention of Cornell University after researchers there read his paper published in one of the industry’s most widely read journals, a publication that reaches all of the nation’s maple syrup producers. Cornell invited William to conduct his studies on the forest land owned by the university.

NSF is the most prestigious funding source.

In addition to the grant, William received a fellowship from NSF. He plans to finish his doctorate in the spring, pursue a post-doctorate degree, and then work for the USDA or a state agricultural office.

Protecting family businesses

His research isn’t only novel; it has potential economic, cultural and entrepreneurial implications. One family contacted William about whether they should invest in a 700-acre sugar maple farm. They wanted to know if the trees were there in the 1800s and whether the land has ecotourism potential.

“Many maple producers are made up of businesses that have been in the family for three or four generations.  There is pride in it. It’s passed down. I’ve talked to a lot of the farmers, and their main concern is whether this will be there for their grandchildren. Is it sustainable? I am able to tell them yes.”

Chris English, University Relations