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Adarsh Ambati

Another Great Summer

 August 10, 2021

This past summer, I had the great opportunity to attend the Stanford Earth Young Investigator: History of Life Program for the second time. After a refresher on R and Earth’s history, we split into groups for our data collection and research projects. For data collection, we scoured through research papers examining ancient fossils and used ImageJ to record size measurements. Then, we had the unique opportunity to design, research, and conduct our own experiments by accessing the Stanford Earth Body Size Dataset. Our group, which consisted of Theo Chiang, Anya Sengupta, and myself, wanted to study extinction patterns throughout the entire Paleozoic era. Our experiment had three main steps. The first identified which phyla were at greatest risk for extinction in each period of the Paleozoic. The second step identified ecological characteristics of Paleozoic marine fauna that indicated greater extinction risk. In the final step, we created six binomial machine learning models that used the same ecological characteristics in step 2 to predict in which period of the Paleozoic a genus will go extinct. Through this extensive research that has never been done before, we hope to establish a foundation from which many future research projects can arise. In December, Theo, Anya, and I will have the opportunity to present our research at the American Geophysical Union Conference to get feedback from doctorates, professors, and other graduate students!

On August 5th, our team presented “Using Machine Learning Models and Logistic Regression Analyses to Develop a Comprehensive Understanding of Extinction Risk For Marine Animal Phyla Across the Paleozoic” to other members of the Payne lab, the family of other interns, and other faculty of Stanford Earth. This summer, we also got to hear about the research projects from the other SEYI interns working outside of the Payne lab. I was able to learn about glaciers, wildcat extinction, computational grouping methods, and so much more. Still, we were all saddened when the time came to say goodbye to the internship and to each other — until the AGU Conference of course! My only solace is that I can continue to attend the Payne lab meetings and listen to all the ground-breaking paleontology research throughout the fall.

Lastly, I just wanted to say thank you to Dr. Monarrez, Mr. Pimentel-Galvan, Dr. Saltzman, Dr. Payne, and everyone else who allowed for this program to not only continue through the pandemic but also thrive. I cannot recommend this program enough. If you have the opportunity to apply, please do! Whether you are coding with your teammates or you are playing UNO online with the other interns or listening to the amazing research through the Education program, you will enjoy every second of it!

Pumped for Round 2

 July 7, 2021

Last year, I had the best time as a Stanford Earth Young Investigator. I got the chance to meet new peers, work with Dr. Monarrez and Michael, conduct novel research about the Ordovician, and attend university lab meetings. I cannot believe that I get the chance to do it all over again with a whole new set of people!

Like last year, we started the program learning about the history of the Earth from its volcanic origins to the commencement of life all the way till the modern world. We examined biodiversity, body size, and mass extinctions all within two weeks. These two weeks served as a reminder of how interconnected the tapestry of life on Earth is — for example, how jumps in both the complexity of life and the maximum body size of organisms can directly be attributed to increases of oxygen levels.

Then, we moved into learning about R. Redoing the practice sets and re-educating myself with R norms and practices proved much more valuable than I initially imagined. Even though I got situated and explored the ins and outs of R last year, I learned that it is never a bad idea to review the basics again.

Lastly, we got to learn how to use ImageJ. This was something that I had been looking forward to as we did not get a chance to do data collection last year. ImageJ is essentially a tool that researchers use to really quickly and easily ascertain the size of a fossil or organism using simply a picture and a standard scale. We practiced on simple brachiopod images, and now we will be putting our practice to contribute to a massive database of fossils. We will look through papers and publishings, some decades old, to analyze pictures, diagrams, and drawings to grow this database that interns from years past have helped build. This work will become the foundation for many research projects for years to come, and we will have contributed in some way to all of them.

In addition, we will also have the chance to design and conduct our own research projects centering on the Cambrian and Ordovician periods of Earth’s history. With the support of my team members, Darren and Anya, along with the guidance of Dr. Monarrez and Michael, I will get the chance to examine a period of our planet’s history that began over 500 million years ago. I cannot wait to get started and to uncover more about the past of this strange world we live in.