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I first came to Braun Hall extremely excited...

posted August 5, 2016

I first came to Braun Hall extremely excited, but also a bit nervous: Coding was never my strong suit… would I be able to manage it this year? Would I be able to come up with a good topic for this summer’s research project? We spent the last weeks of our internship writing abstracts, printing posters, and presenting our research to prepare for AGU. Coding our graphs was tough; sometimes, my incredible partner, Naomi (she can literally identify EVERY rock!), and I would spend thirty minutes scratching our heads over why a certain line of code didn’t run properly the second time– turns out we just forgot to add a comma. I guess that’s why it’s so satisfying to see your code running perfectly after hours of revisions! We managed to construct 5 heatmaps depicting the genera diversity of marine life modes over the intervals surrounding each mass extinction. Being able to return for a second year was a blessing. After reviewing how to use R, I finally overcame my fear of coding. Most of all, I feel like I’ve grown a lot more as a person as well as as a science student. Working with fellow interns helped me get to know other perspectives on why people love science, and also helped me feel confident with my own reasons as well.

Over the last two summers, I’ve learned more than I can address in a single blog post. This internship helped me realize that science is so much more than what your school textbooks make it out to be. I never imagined that my childhood love of dinosaurs, birds, and insects would lead me to meeting such awesome people at the GeoCorner. Thank you so much to Dr. Saltzman, Dr. Heim, Dr. Payne, and the Earth Sciences department for providing us such an amazing opportunity to learn more about what it means to be a scientist! I think I speak for the other interns as well when I say that we all appreciate your patience and dedication! Lastly, thank you to everyone who interned with me this summer! I’m going to miss you all so much! :(

But for now…
See you at AGU!!!!!

Whew, I can’t believe six weeks have already flown by...

posted July 20, 2016

Leopard shark
A baby leopard shark. Sharks don’t have true scales. Instead, they have dermal denticles– rows and rows of tiny teeth embedded in their skin, which helps protect them from parasites and reduce friction between them and the water.

Whew, I can’t believe six weeks have already flown by! Right after my last blog entry, we boarded a research boat in Redwood City to learn how to identify local fish and use the Van Dorn bottle to collect plankton samples. I was surprised by how shallow the San Francisco Bay is: on average, it’s only about 15 to 17 feet deep! Nevertheless, it’s home to a diverse array of species, such as the spider crab, which piles bits of shell, seaweed, and algae on its carapace to camouflage itself from predators. We also helped net a couple baby leopard sharks and a pair of bat rays that were measured and released by the boat interns.

A week later, we went on an overnight camping trip to Pinnacles National Park. On the way there, we made two stops by a fossil-rich outcrop of siliceous shale studded with Discinisca brachiopods and all sorts of bivalves. The second spot also had crab fossils! Noel says the rocks are part of the Monterey Formation, and are around 5 to 6 million years old. I recognized the spots from last year, but it still amazes me how well-preserved the fossils are.

A couple minutes after pitching tents, we went hiking to Bear Gulch Reservoir. The caves are closed this time of year, but we still got to see some cool lizards and garter snakes on the side of the trail.

(left) Most likely a California whiptail lizard. Not too sure, though. (right) A common garter snake we found at the reservoir. These guys have mildly toxic saliva that helps them hunt amphibians and other small prey animals.

In the morning, we went on a geology hike up the High Peaks Trail, which twists through massive formations of breccia. Marine microfossils have been found in these rocks, which may indicate that the volcano that ejected the rocks may have been near the edge of an ancient sea.

A bit of breccia we found on the side of the trail. The darker, angular bits in the rock are most likely composed of rhyolite.

Back at the GeoCorner, we’ve entered over 40,000 lines of size data, but lately we’ve been setting our nematode books aside to start our research projects. After attending AGU last year, I wondered how I could expand my research. I still wanted to focus on the ecological effects of mass extinctions, but this year, I’ll be turning my attention from selectivity to recovery – after a mass extinction, is there any particular “filling order” for marine ecospaces? Do new modes of life generate faster than old ones recover? Luckily, I’ve gotten more comfortable with using R over the last couple weeks. So far, my partner, Naomi, and I have made a couple plots. We’re so excited to analyze our data!

Words can’t express how excited I was to return to Braun Hall...

posted June 29, 2016

Part of a shell bed at New Brighton Beach, mostly composed of gastropod and inarticulate bivalve fossils.

Words can’t express how excited I was to return to Braun Hall. I stumbled upon the program last year as a timid incoming sophomore. My love for the outdoors fueled an endless curiosity for the natural world, but I wanted to further my learning beyond the science classroom. Trying my hand at real research only sparked more questions. This internship was a real eye-opener: I was amazed by the diversity of the living world, as well as the breadth of the science community. However, I was also inspired by how much we didn’t know. As a second-year intern, I hope to expand on the skills I learned last year, and deepen my understanding of our environment.

This summer, we’ve been collecting size data on nematodes, a diverse phylum of microscopic worms that occupy a variety of ecological niches. Dr. Heim told us that if all other matter on Earth disappeared, the world would still be dimly recognizable due to a thin film of nematodes! It’s crazy how little we actually know about such a successful organism! So far, C. elegans is the most extensively researched species, due to its significance in genetic mapping, but we still know relatively little about the phylum in general.

A couple days earlier, we drove down to New Brighton Beach to examine shell beds, highly concentrated layers of marine fossils that stud the sea cliffs. We observed a lot of bivalve and gastropod remains toward the base of the cliffs. According to Dr. Heim, the fossils are part of the Purisima Formation, and are about 5 million years old!

Overall, these past two weeks have been really fun, and I can’t wait to start more research!

The last few weeks of the History of Life internship were...

posted August 07, 2015


The last few weeks of the History of Life internship were jam-packed with camping trips, potlucks, poster-printing, project presenting, and a mountain-load of pizza! A couple weeks back, we took a camping trip to Pinnacles National Park. On the way there, we went fossil hunting in a big stretch of the Monterey Formation in Salinas Valley.

Frog and fossil
Left: A California red-legged frog I found at Pinnacles. The species is now endangered and endemic to California. The red-legged frog population in Pinnacles was wiped out by invasive fish, but were reintroduced to the park in 2001. Right: A fossil of an inarticulate brachiopod from the genus Discinisca. Noel told us that the orange color of its shell was produced by the calcium phosphate in its shell

The day after we arrived, we took a hiking trip towards High Peaks to look at the igneous rock formations that gave the park its name. Among the common rock formations we found were banded rhyolite, breccia, tuff, and perlite.

A breccia formation near the caves at Bear Gulch. Most breccias at the park are formed when molten rock slumps off the sides of volcanoes. They were then deposited at the outer reaches of the park after being carried away by a body of water.

After we came back from Pinnacles, we submitted our abstracts to AGU and presented our research posters. It was also interesting to hear about the research the general interns participated in over the summer– one that I particularly found fascinating was an experiment that involved dating cosmogenic nuclides to look at changes in Earth’s landscape over time.

Then it was time for us to present our projects. I got a bit nervous when I saw everyone file into the room, but I got the hang of it after the first couple minutes. Talking about the poster and getting feedback from other interns also helped me think about how I would approach my project if I were to delve further into what our line graphs and heatmaps might implicate. What would different extinction odds of certain life modes mean for the causes of their mass extinctions? What caused those mysterious jumps in the line graph depicting the number of occupied life modes over time? These are questions I would want to answer if I were to do this experiment again.

Intern sitting in front of her poster.
Connie took a picture of me with the poster.

All in all, this summer has been a huge eye-opener for me regarding how to conduct research. Thank you so much to Dr. Saltzman, Dr. Heim, Dr. Payne, and the rest of the Earth Sciences department for giving all of us the chance to learn about research taking place in their department, as well being able to work with other interns with similar interests! There’s never been a dull moment this summer and I’m going to miss everyone who made this internship such an amazing learning experience! For now, I’ll look forward to meeting everyone at AGU in December!

Research Projects

posted July 15, 2015

Time sped by faster than a Spriggina on rollerblades, and before I knew it, it was already time for my second blog post!

It's already been four weeks, and research projects are up and running. My partner Juliette (she's a total genius with coding!) and I decided to start our project on how to judge the effect of mass extinctions on the overall ecological diversity on Earth, based on the diagram drawn by Bush, Bambach, and Daly that we nicknamed the "ecocube". Each individual box that makes up the ecocube stands for a unique life mode based on an organism’s feeding, motility, and tiering, or where it naturally occurs in the water column.

Drawn by Andrew M. Bush, Richard K. Bambach, and Gwen M. Daley in their Paleobiology article, "Changes in theoretical ecospace utilization in marine fossil assemblages between the mid-Paleozoic and late Cenozoic."

Our project examines what the cubes looked like after each extinction– essentially, based on our data, we hope to figure out whether extinctions impacted certain life modes more than others, or if it hit organisms from all across the cube. We’ll use our data to chart the evolution of ecological diversity over time, which might help in making conjectures about future extinctions as well as the past ones. So far, we’ve finished our proposal and have started working on graphing out our data with R.

On July 8th, we took a break from our usual data collecting and visited Hopkins Marine Station with the general interns. In the morning, we stopped by the beach to take a look at the organisms living in its intertidal zone, and headed into the lab for some lectures by the resident scientists in the afternoon. The density of organisms in an intertidal community is truly mind-boggling– we found dozens of turban snails, sea anemones, tidepool sculpins, limpets, barnacles, crabs, and chitons, and that’s excluding all of the organisms we can’t see with our naked eye– one of the professors at Hopkins mentioned that there’s over one million microbes in a single drop of seawater, including the nitrogen-fixing archaea, methanogenic bacteria, and sulfate-reducing bacteria that larger organisms depend on for maintaining marine nutrient cycles.

Bat star
A bat star we found in the tidepools. They’re named for the characteristic webbing between each of their five arms. Once it finds its prey, the bat star inverts its cardiac stomach and pushes it out of its mouth. Its stomach releases digestive enzymes that slowly digest its prey from the outside. Once food is completely digested and sucked into the cardiac stomach, it is sent to the pyloric stomach for further digestion. Starfish are echinoderms, which, along with chordates, are deuterostomes. A researcher at Hopkins showed us that starfish embryos are bilaterally symmetrical before metamorphosing into a radially symmetrical adult, which might show that both they and chordates originated from a bilaterian ancestor.

Overall, these last few weeks have been really fun! I feel like this internship has already taught me so much in one month’s time. I’ve probably never soaked up this much information in such a short amount of time, though I’m sure that there’s a lot more coming in the next few weeks as we finish up our research projects. I guess that’s what makes this program so special– it provides us with the resources that allow us to research to an extent that we’d rarely have the opportunity to reach outside of this internship. I’m loving the research environment here as well as the awesome people who maintain it, and look forward to the weeks to come!

The first two weeks...

posted July 02, 2015

The first two weeks of the History of Life program has been an amazing learning experience for me. For one, it was a lot of firsts– this being my first internship, I found it was a great opportunity to get my feet wet and gain a better understanding about what it is to be in the science field. It was also the first time I was able to find my way to the GeoCorner without getting lost (though I did start to wander after the first couple days without my map… Whoops!).

So far, we’ve mostly been collecting data on size ranges of different species of marine prokaryotes to better understand body size evolution over time. A couple days in, our supervisor, Noel, also introduced us to a programming language called R, where we would eventually graph our data. It was fascinating how diverse the size ranges were for different species– some had diameters up to 100 microns while others might only have a length of one micron or less, and I wonder what would factor into such big size differences in organisms that we can’t even see with our naked eye.

On Friday, we took a trip to New Brighton and Pomponio State Beachs to look at the fossils that stud their cliffs– Noel said that the sedimentary rock formations on the cliffs were probably around 5 to 8 million years old, which, surprisingly, is actually pretty young compared to other rocks on the geologic time scale! We found a lot of whale bones and trace fossils formed from ghost shrimp burrows, as well as a whole host of different bivalves and snail shells.

All in all, the past couple weeks have been really exciting! I’m really looking forward to the rest of my time here at Stanford, and am eager to start more research!

Fossil whale bone
A fossilized whale bone we found at New Brighton Beach. The rock looks pretty heavy in this picture, but since most of a whale’s weight is supported by seawater, the bone itself evolved to be light and flexible, which aided whales in their swimming and allowed them to reach such a massive size.