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Darren Chiu

I couldn’t have asked for a better summer!

 August 10, 2021

I couldn’t have asked for a better summer! Stanford Earth Young Investigators: Biodiversity group has been an eye-opening and a once in a lifetime experience. Equipped with full access to the Stanford SearchWorks database, we were still able to perform research in the form of data collection and pursue our own research projects, despite the program being virtual this year. It is amazing that our data collection, focused on Mollusca body size in the Cambrian Period, has contributed to the Paleobiology lab’s research that has never been done before!

Also, the great organization and effort from the awesome people who made this program allowed me to learn so much in just the first 3 weeks and complete an American Geophysical Union Conference level research project within the last 5 weeks. It is really cool how there was so much creativity and choice allowed in the research projects, as we could choose from so many topics this year beyond this summer’s data collection focus on the Cambrian Period. Prem and Atessa were the other interns in my group, and our project was titled, “Examining the Effects of Habitat Loss and Body Size on the Extinction Risk of the Family Felidae”. I can’t wait to present this project with them at the AGU Conference. For our projects, I’m thankful to have learned to use the R programming language to create visuals. Since R has become increasingly utilized in research, experience in R will likely be useful in future endeavors. There are so many cool libraries in R to explore. For example, I found the “emojifont” library, which allows the programmer to plot with emojis instead of the usual symbols, but ultimately my group and I decided using “emojifont” may be a little to distracting.

The SEYI experience encompasses much more than just the 8 weeks of research. Pedro will still keep in touch with us to prepare for the AGU Conference in December. He and Jenny have discussed a possible in-person meeting on the Stanford University campus for us since our whole summer experience was virtual. We may even attend a field trip, which is even more exciting! Also, we will always have access to our data collection, research resources, and projects, as well as the SEYI group chat to keep in touch with each other. As Pedro said to us, “You will always be a part of Stanford.”

Thank you, Pedro, for always being available to help us with our projects, teaching us so much about the field of Paleobiology, and guiding us thoroughly through the research process. Thank you, Michael, for enthusiastically helping us with R programming and preparing us for the AGU conference. Thank you, Jenny, for meticulously organizing this program and the engaging SEYI Education sessions. Thank you, Dr. Payne, for including us in the Paleobiology Lab meetings and sharing your extremely interesting and important research with us.

Have a great day!

Summer research programs can’t get better than this.

 July 7, 2021

Summer research programs can’t get better than this. I am very ecstatic to have been accepted into this year’s Stanford Earth Young Investigators: Biodiversity Option. In these first three weeks, we have all been really engaged in what we are learning, and I have rarely been in a room where so many students share my interests in environmental science. Despite being completely online, our Biodiversity team will still work on research projects this year, and I cannot wait to get started this coming week. In contrast to last year, we will choose our own research questions for the projects, which is a little intimidating yet also exciting.

Here is a summary of what happened these past three weeks:

The first week was mostly an introductory week to this program. We had the first day to introduce ourselves and get to know each other. The rest of the week was spent learning about the history of life on Earth. This summer’s focus is on the factors in the Cambrian Period that played a role in animals’ body sizes.

These strange animals existed during the Cambrian period. For instance, the Hallucigenia (the one that looks like a velvet worm), looks upside-down and backwards as a fossil. During this time period, a great diversity in animal life suddenly appeared in the fossil record in a short amount of time, relative to the entire history of life on Earth.

The second week was all about learning the programming language R, which is ideal for displaying data in research. I have had experience in Java, but R is very different. I soon got the hang of it, thanks to Pedro and Michael’s excellent teaching.

This cool graph displays logged data of mean body sizes of different genera since the Cambrian Period and was made using R.

We learned statistics in the third week. In nature, there is almost no uniform distribution of data. Frequently, data in nature must be logged in order to have a normal distribution. We also learned how to use ImageJ to make measurements in images. It is certainly faster and more accurate than taking measurements by hand. The week concluded with a reading discussion on the first 2 chapters of the book Why Size Matters. I had never contemplated size playing such a huge role in determining other traits such as shape in living beings and not vice versa.

Very much looking forward to what we’ll learn and discover next.

Have a great day and happy Fourth of July (if it is that time of the year for you too)!