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Divya Sundararajan

From History of Life to AP US History

posted August 08, 2015

I had another amazing summer at Stanford this year. The last few weeks have been exciting, but, at the same time, chaotic, as we were finishing up our poster and abstract for AGU. My project is about the influence of pH on prokaryotes. We used the statistical programming language R to make graphs. Even though I had used R before, I definitely learned a lot more, such as on using different kinds of graphs and statistical tests. We were able to finish everything the day before it was due. Our poster session went well, and I am looking forward to going to San Francisco for the 2015 AGU Fall Conference.

Divya standing in front of a poster

We got an opportunity to see what the other interns in the general program were doing, first by touring their lab and then, later on, by listening to their project presentation. It was interesting to learn about all of the different research fitting under the umbrella of earth science such as paleoclimatology and the study of fungi.

Our final field trip was an overnight trip to Pinnacles National Park and the Salinas Valley. We first collected fossils of various animals such as crabs, Gastropoda, and bivalves in the Salinas Valley. Then, we reached the campsite at Pinnacles in the evening. Unlike last year, when we had a lot of trouble putting up the tent, this year, it was a snap because Charin is a pro at setting up tents. I was just providing moral support by talking and possibly distracting her. She not only finished our own tent but also helped Allison and Amy, who had some trouble with their tent nearby. I was congratulating my genius at planning to share a tent with Charin. Last year, Noel made Italian food (spaghetti). This year, he topped that with Mexican delicacies (burritos and quesadillas). I am more of a dessert person, so I was delighted to see Noel brought homemade s'more brownies. I didn't sleep much because the accommodations were not five-star; however, the company was top-notch, so we talked late into the night. We did three different hikes at Pinnacles; the most exciting ones went inside some caves, where we saw endangered California red-legged frogs.

Toad sitting on a rock

Last week, Megan took us to the Cantor Art Museum, which was amazing. I could spend hours looking at the sculptures and other artwork. I was really fooled by a sculpture of a worker leaning against the wall: it looked so realistic, I thought it was really someone standing there.

Interns posing in front of The Thinker

I got an opportunity to tour the Gates Computer Science building after participating in a user study. The Gates building is different from the earth sciences buildings because there is new technology wherever I looked around. Finally, my brother got pretty excited to see the bioengineering department, which bears his name, Shriram.

Now, it's time to get back to my summer reading, which I have been neglecting for so long, because school is starting in ten days.

Sea anemones, sea urchins, sea cucumbers...see starfish?

posted July 15, 2015

It's an exciting time because we've started to brainstorm our research projects. My partner, Fabiola, and I discussed several potential projects such as extinction, pH and body size, and evolution. Since we are measuring bacteria and cataloging this year, we thought that it will be pretty cool to do our project using the bacteria data we collected. So, we settled on a project that analyzes the relationship between pH, bacterial cell size, and phylogenesis. I started brushing up my R skills from last year, and I am looking forward to the next few weeks to make progress on this project.

Writing a blog post without a field trip is not fun. Fortunately, we went to a field trip to—you guessed it—a beach! Actually, we went to Monterey to observe organisms such as sea anemones. We visited the tide pools at the the Hopkins Marine Center, which is part of Stanford, where they research marine organisms. It was fascinating to listen to the scientists at Hopkins talking about very interesting research. After lunch, we went on a guided tour where we handled different echinoderms such as brittle stars and sea cucumbers. Personally, I liked the sea urchins because they are pretty cool.

Divya holding a purple urchin

Afterwards, we visited a lab that specializes in echinoderm research and saw starfish larvae. Did you know that the larvae of starfish have bilateral symmetry, whereas the adults have pentaradial symmetry?

Starfish in a tidepool

It has been an exciting four weeks. I made several friends from the history of life program. I enjoy lunchtime, where we have a lot of fun and play games. We've continued data collection with fossil organisms from the Precambrian. I am looking forward to our overnight camping trip on July 20-21 at Pinnacles National Park.

Déjà vu – Some things changed, but more remained the same

posted July 04, 2015

Last year, when I was measuring ostracods, microscopic crustaceans, I thought these would be the smallest organisms I ever studied in detail. And then I came back this year to discover...(drumroll please)… We're studying bacteria! Not just any bacteria, but modern bacteria! I’m not sure exactly what significance that has, but it sounds cool.
I'm excited to be back as a History of Life Intern at the Stanford School of Earth Science. Last year, I couldn't find the conference room, walking past the Mitchell building several times for around half an hour, and was almost late for the orientation. This time, I had no such worries since the orientation was in the same room. It was cool to meet the other interns and learn a little about them. I am looking forward spending time with them in the next two months.

One of the best parts of History of Life internship are the field trips. I enjoyed going on the trips so much I jumped at the opportunity when Dr. Heim arranged a field trip during spring break of 2015. I love beaches, especially the soft sand and the constant sound of waves crashing on to the beach. Going to the beach for a field trip is double the fun. As the first field trip this time we visited New Brighton beach and Pomponio beach. We went to two beaches, so I guess it's four times the fun. Since we were learning about bacteria, I was curious as to how we would identify bacteria on the beaches but wa disappointed to learn that we were not going bacteria hunting there. At New Brighton beach, I saw fossils of bryozoans and bivalves as well as trace fossils such as the holes left by boring clams in rock (although I didn’t spend time with the clams to see whether they were really boring), as well as several shell beds. Afterwards, we ate lunch and explored Pompidou beach, where we saw other fossils as well as some marine organisms, such as sand crabs.

Interns sittng at a picnic table


I have been to the Stanford campus more than 100 times but have never seen the top of the Hoover tower. I did not even know that visitors are allowed to go to the top of the tower. Dr. Saltzman took us last week, and it was awesome. We went up to the 14th floor of Hoover Tower from where I could see Stanford University’s landmarks and the surrounding area.

Two interns at Hoover Tower observation deck

I found the Wednesday presentations, where Dr. Saltzman arranged for people to come talk about their research, to be as interesting and diverse as last year. I am looking forward to the more field trips, doing my own project and learning more.

All Good Things Must Come to an End

posted August 10, 2014

The History of Life program ended on Wednesday, August 6. I had a great summer in Stanford, and I wish it wasn't over. I made so many friends, and I can say that this was one summer I was not bored at any point in time. The last 2 weeks have been hectic. I spent time finishing my project and went on a field trip to both beaches and tide pools. I also took time to visit the Cantor Art Museum at Stanford, which was amazing.

Our last field trip of the History of Life program was amazing. We went to New Brighton and Pebble Beach. I have seen shells and fossils before. I used to pick them up only if they are beautiful, but after this program, I started looking at fossils and trying to identify what kind of animal it used to be. It is so much more interesting to go to the beach and look for fossils! At New Brighton beach, we saw various whalebone fossils from different parts of the whale. In addition to fossils, we saw live sea anemones and isopods, which are crustaceans. The sea anemones lived in tiny hollows in rocks with puddles of water in them. It was cool to touch them, but, in response, they curled up into themselves. Isopods are interesting creatures hanging under rock formations near the water, and they have scale-like protrusions on their exoskeleton sticking out. In Pebble Beach, we went to the tide pools and saw various animals, such as sea anemones, crabs, mussels, and sea snails, and picked them up. I always wanted to touch a sea urchin, but I was afraid because of the spines. I was glad that I was able to hold one of the, in my hand without hurting myself or the animal.

The last few weeks of this internship were intense. We were all working on our projects, and I definitely learned much more R, with a lot of help from Dr. Heim. I am proud of the fact I was able to write a complicated R program that can compute the average metabolic rate and plot several nice-looking graphs. My project compares the metabolic rates of a type species (a species that represents a genus) and the average metabolic rate of the species within a genus. I created a professional-looking poster and presented to my fellow interns, as well as some people from the Paleobiology Lab. I enjoyed my time at Stanford measuring ostracods, learning several new things, and, of course, the field trips. One of the most important things I learned is that California has a state rock, and it is called serpentine. I am already looking forward to next summer, whatever adventure it might take me.

Sleepless in Pinnacles

posted July 22, 2014

It has been more than 4 weeks since I started the internship, even though it seems like only yesterday I was in the Mitchell Earth Science conference room, listening to the Dean of Earth Sciences and others talk during the orientation. As part of the program, we are continuing to measure ostracods from the catalogs, and we have been learning about advanced features in R such as using loops to model phylogenetic trees. It is exciting that we have started our projects, and my project is comparing how the metabolic rates of different genera change over time. I chose metabolic rate because it is a concept I am able to understand and observe firsthand. For example, in the summer, I tend to be more active compared to the winter, and animals such as mammals that predominantly live in colder regions tend to be big and lethargic, and they hibernate during colder months. I would like to see whether this applies to invertebrates like ostracods and how it may vary over time. I am using genera specifically to observe any trends seen between those different genera and compare the results.

Ice Age poster


The most exciting part of the History of Life program is definitely the field trips. We have already been to two field trips. I enjoyed being part of the group and seeing things from a geological perspective. We went on our first field trip to UC Berkeley. I am used to going on big buses with my classmates at my school for club-related activities, for example, as part of beach cleanup for environmental club, so I was expecting a Stanford bus to take us to Berkeley. To my surprise, Stanford Earth Sciences staff, including Dr. Heim, drove us there in vans. We visited the UC Berkeley Museum of Paleontology, where we assisted Dr. Lisa White in organizing fossils of various marine invertebrates before going on a tour around the museum. I saw several interesting fossils in the museum, including a huge saber-toothed tiger fossil (Remember Diego from Ice Age?). I got pizza for lunch with peach toppings. I was skeptical about the combination of pizza and peaches, but it was surprisingly delicious. We also saw the Memorial Stadium, built over the Hayward fault, and there was a crack on the outer wall as a result of one of the previous earthquakes. On our second field trip, we went to Pinnacles National Park, and we camped overnight in tents and sleeping bags. After driving to Pinnacles, we went hiking on the Condor Gulch to High Peaks loop trail. I had uncannily chosen neon yellow pants during the hike, which apparently helped people who were behind to follow us. When we came back to the camp, Juliette, Lauren, and I put up our shared tent. I had an adventurous time putting up our tent. After 2 unsuccessful attempts, we managed to put up the tent, to my relief. I helped Dr. Heim, who was making spaghetti and fajitas with grating cheese, which appeared to be easy because Melody was doing most of the work. My job was done after five minutes of cheese grating, which was good, as it had been a tiring day. The spaghetti tasted good, especially after I covered it in a mountain of parmesan cheese. The next day, we went to Salinas Valley, collecting fossils of crabs, bivalves, brachiopods, and some gastropods, and I collected souvenirs for my siblings. One interesting part of the trip was it appeared we spent more time in the van than anywhere else, being driven from Stanford to the pinnacles visitor to the campground to bear gulch back to the classroom and to Salinas Valley, where we were driven around until we found what we were looking for, and finally back to Stanford. I was glad that Megan was doing all the driving, because I was tired and half-asleep the whole ride back. 


We had a lot of fun in the classroom as well as during lunch. We watched the soccer world cup game between USA and Germany. Although I was not into soccer, I enjoyed the USA flag-themed cupcakes brought by Juliette. Dr. Heim proved his culinary expertise several times by bringing homemade baked goods such as chocolate cake and s’more pie, which were delicious. We also got the opportunity to attend tallks on several interesting topics. Dr. Welander, who is working in geomicrobiology, gave us a talk on her research, which is about the function of 3-methylhopanoid. It was interesting to hear about her career path from Occidental College to here at Stanford, and to see how she and her husband to different universities such as MIT and University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign to do research together. We also toured her lab, and it as really exciting to me because I had never seen a lab in a university before. Dr. Taylor also gave a talk on his research in the Paleobiology lab. He gave us some sound advice on using your opportunities well, especially if your parents or university is paying for your education. 

Adventures in Braun Hall

posted June 30, 2014

Thanks to my fantastic directional sense, I arrived just two minutes before the start of the orientation day, even though I arrived on campus 25 minutes before. I was nervous to see almost everyone else had already assembled in the conference room at the Mitchell Earth Sciences Building. However, I became comfortable once the orientation started, with the Dean welcoming us and Dr. Payne describing his research. Dr. Heim talked about what we would be doing in the next eight weeks. We had lunch, and the first day concluded with a small tour of the Earth Sciences area, showing us Coupa Cafe, the art museum, and other places around Stanford. After an interesting first day, I was excited to spend the next eight weeks at the Stanford School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences.

The morning of most days in the History of Life program is generally devoted to teaching us, and Dr. Heim makes the class interactive and interesting. He first crushed my dreams by mentioning that paleontology is not as “sexy” as you would expect from Indiana Jones and Jurassic Park. I unintentionally took my revenge by omitting Maine, the state where he grew up, when we were talking about the states starting with the letter “M.” Our real work started when Dr. Heim asked us to start measuring the dorsoventral length, the anteroposterior length, and the right-left length of ostracods, microscopic crustaceans, from catalogs using a digital caliper. We learned how to find the volume of the ostracods based on these measurements. We also learned how to use a statistical programming language called R to calculate the volume of the ostracods given the measurements and graph the data.

Each Wednesday, the History of Life interns meet with the interns from the general program to find out more about earth sciences from experts. The first week, we learned about different kinds of maps showing tectonic plates. Later on, we did an interesting exercise of drowning San Francisco using Google Earth during a GIS workshop. We discovered if a certain sequence of geological events occurs, the sea level will rise, and part of San Francisco will become submerged. Even though it was scary to think part of the beloved city might be buried underwater, the whole exercise was fascinating. There is a lot to explore about earth sciences in Stanford. Braun Hall has a lot of cool exhibits outside our classroom such as a giant clam shell and preserved marine invertebrates in a glass case, along with a variety of small and big rocks. Based on my experience in the first two weeks, I am sure I will enjoy the next six weeks, and I am looking forward to field trips and doing my own project.