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Catherina Xu

explore the scientific research process

posted Aug 13, 2013

I am currently in post-internship-depression. The History of Life program has been an amazing journey of personal growth and discovery in science. I learned so much (about programming, research, ostracods) and met so many outstanding people who share my interest in science. After two full days at home, with absolutely nothing to do, I can't help but wish that the program lasted a bit longer.

During the final week of the program, interns were able to show off their hard work through poster and PowerPoint presentations. Although I already knew what fellow History of Life interns were working on, listening to the general program interns speak was a whole new experience. Last week, we had just toured their laboratories - which was extremely helpful when listening to them present. We collected data through primary literature sources; they used top-notch scientific equipment (such as the Shrimp) to gather information for their professors. I realized that interns of both programs were able to explore the scientific research process, and I hope that everyone - like me - will take away something valuable from this experience.

For now, I will say goodbye to this beautiful campus and all of the wonderful people I've met. But it won't be long. We didn't say a single "goodbye" on the last day - because in a few months, we will reunite at the American Geophysical Union conference. Thank you, Stanford, for this wonderful way to spend my summer.

effect of temperature and time on marine invertebrate body size

posted July 26, 2013

Since the last update, History of Life interns have done an incredible amount of work. We’ve all started on our individual projects, which involve the data we collected regarding ostracod and echinoderm body size. I am investigating the effect of temperature and time on marine invertebrate body size along with two others. Throughout this process, we needed to learn to use the statistical program “R”. It was a very bumpy road for our group at first – we were all novices at programming – but we figured out how to plot some basic graphs and see trends in our data. This week, we will continue to work on becoming familiarized with R. We are also very excited to attend the AGU Conference this winter, which is a world-class geophysical conference. We are in the process of writing our abstracts and creating our posters.


Yesterday, we had the opportunity to go up to UC Berkeley, visit their Paleobiology collection, and see the Hayward fault in action. Berkeley is a beautiful school and their collection is very impressive – from daunting sabertooth cats to tiny micro-fossils, their storage room just about had it all. I admit that I was captivated by the shelving, too. The cabinets shifted with the turn of a wheel, both saving space and giving the room a mystic feel. We also went up to the Cal stadium and creek to see the Hayward fault. Noel introduced us to faults and topography this week and we applied our knowledge at Cal. There was a crack in the stadium and a discontinuous portion of the creek bed due to the fault’s continuous motion. We had to walk a lot during the trip, but it was still very exciting because this was my first visit to Berkeley.

In the last two weeks of the internship, we will continue to collect data and finalize our projects. I can’t wait to translate 8-weeks worth of hard work onto a poster!


posted July 9, 2013

It has been an exhilarating three weeks, and I can tell that the journey has just started. As I am typing right now, Noel is saying that we will pick topics for our final projects next week (boy, am I excited)! So far, we've been focusing on collecting data on blastoids, crinoids, and ostracods. By measuring these creatures, we will be able to get a better idea of how body size has evolved over time, as well as its importance in keeping organisms alive through mass extinctions. There are enormous treatises we flip through and thousands of pictures we measure painstakingly; I also gained a better handle on Microsoft Excel by going through 2 or 3 of those volumes. As for the ostracods, we're allowed to work in pairs, and divvying up the jobs is amazingly fun. I love to see the "row" numbers become double digits, and then triple, knowing that all of this data will be invaluable to our projects. I've never attended a professional scientific conference before, and am really looking forward to attending AGU in San Francisco. I can't wait to transform our data, the fruits of our "hard labor", into tangible, cutting-edge scientific studies.

In addition to data collection, we interns were given the opportunity to listen to several guest speakers during our Wednesday get-togethers. This allowed us to learn more about field science outside of our domain of body size evolution. These presentations included a brief introduction to soil science, carbon sequestration, and phytoplankton. One post-doc was even able to share her experience doing field work in Antarctica, and had pictures/footage to add to her presentation. Although I love what we are doing now, it's definitely refreshing to find out about what graduates and scientists are currently working on. As one of the guest speakers mentioned, becoming a Ph. D is like reaching maximum knowledge in one area, and then making a tiny "dent" in the circle, signifying an advance current knowledge. This metaphor/visualization has inspired me to pursue this path - I want to make a dent in science, no matter how small.

Finally, the History of Life program's participants took a trip to several beaches to take a look at fossils and tide pools in their natural disposition. We first travelled down to New Brighton beach in Capitola. Before this trip, I had no idea that fossils were so abundant in beach rocks, nor in outcrops. It was amazing to see life that had fossilized 3-5 million years ago, in the Pliocene era, on a lay beach. We also visited the Bean Hollow tide pools, where we were able to see hermit crabs, limpets, algae, and sea urchins cling onto the rock. The ocean was breathtaking, and I can definitely see myself driving back up to these beaches and revisiting this beautiful scene over and over. Despite the fact that my backpack got stained with algae (a climbing mishap), this was one of the best trips I've made in a long while. Here are some pictures I took:

Embedded shells