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Grace Lam

Pinnacles Fieldtrip, Nematode Life, and Speakers!

posted July 20, 2016

Last week we went on a camping trip to Pinnacles National Park. We piled into the vans at around 9am and drove for around one and a half hours, then stopped at a park for a sandwich lunch. A bunch of us were running around catching Pokemon (cough, cough…) but the rest of us just relaxed in the shade. Afterwards, we drove for 5 minutes to the Monterey Formation to collect some really cool fossils. The rock was so well exposed and you could just pick up a random rock and it would have a bivalve fossil in it. The rocks were relatively soft so you could just use your hands to break it in smaller pieces to find more fossils. I found a bunch of bivalves, particularly scallops, and some brachiopods as well. Afterwards, we drove 5 minutes to another part of the Monterey Formation where the rocks had a lot of small crabs in them. It’s really amazing how these two sections of the formation have completely different organisms when they are so close together!

An hour later we arrived at the Pinnacles campsite, and we pitched our tents. The campsite was pretty nice and there was a restroom and showers near the visitors center (3 quarters=4 minutes of lukewarm water) I went with a group to check out the pool by the visitors center, and others went on a nature hike. Not to gross anyone out, but there were quite a few bugs swimming around in the pool… One of the interns picked up a huge beetle from the water and let it crawl around on his hand. Twas weird. ( i mean the intern, not the bug)

The cave was closed due to the roosting bats, so we stayed at the campsite. I helped make dinner, which consisted of chicken and vegetable fajitas. On a kind of random note, we saw a deer and her two fawns, some rabbits, as well as a lot of raccoons. Dessert was really amazing (thanks Noel for the amazing s'mores!). The stars are amazing at 3am in case anyone wanted to go stargazing, but make sure to bring a blanket because it’s really cold. I stayed up to watch the stars and the sun rise with Charin but not everyone is as crazy as I am- but the raccoons and crickets were really noisy so if anyone has trouble sleeping, that would be a productive alternative.

Next morning, we were lucky that the weather was good. We took down our tents and drove to High Peaks, where we stopped and took out some geologic maps. The geology of the place is really interesting because the movement of the tectonic plates moved one section all the way down to LA. The rocks are really interesting and as we climbed higher it was cool to see the changing vegetation at different elevations.

This week, a few speakers came and spoke about remote sensing, mathematical modeling, and the Stanford admissions process. It was different than usual and I especially enjoyed hearing from a PALY alum about her experience in this internship program years ago, and her path to becoming a environmental philanthropist.

We finished up our nematode data collection, and continued having discussions on Biology’s First Law every other morning. Now we are shifting our focus to working on our research projects. My partner and I are making good progress on it, and I look forward to seeing what our results will be!

Let's see... so much happened in the past 2 weeks...

posted June 30, 2016

Let's see... so much happened in the past 2 weeks since the internship started that I think I will just work my way backwards through everything. Today was by far the most exciting day - I just got back from the field trip to Capitola on the Santa Cruz coast. We looked at some shell beds and saw some really cool things along the way, my favorite being the whale fossils and tide pool critters (sea anemone, tiny crabs, barnacles, mussels and the sort). Afterwards, we had lunch on the beach, and took a group photo. After we finished, we drove to the Marine center and looked at two awesome whale bone collections, a massive blue whale and a smaller gray whale. Both were really cool, and we took lots of pictures at the little wooden plank overlooking the ocean.

Ok let me just very quickly describe a day in the life of a biodiversity intern. In the morning at 9, we usually start off with a quick 5 minute brief to what the day is going to look like. We sometimes read a scientific paper together and have a group discussion on it, other times we listen to Noel give us a talk on some background information on some aspect of a topic relevant to the internship. Next, we usually do data collection until lunch. It varies from year to year, but this time we are collecting nematode (roundworm) data, which involves transferring the size and ecology data from books to an excel spreadsheet. To be honest, this sometimes is rather tedious, but we work in pairs, making it a lot faster and quite satisfying. We collect data on the type of nematode, the size measurements, as well as the living mode. Lunch lasts from around 12-1:30 on most days, and on Wednesdays we have speakers, so it lasts from 12:00-2pm. During lunch, we are free to eat lunch wherever we want on campus, and I found th In the afternoon on Thursdays, we have lab meetings after lunch in which we hear from the grad students and post docs about their pathways and experiences. Last week, we collected some soil and fruit samples to see if we can find some nematodes. We placed them in petri dishes with agar in them, and kept a control (dry) and a wet petri dish for samples from each location. My group got 2 samples, one of which were two loquats that we had collected near the back of Geocorner. A week after we placed them into the petri dish, they smell really bad ~ but there are definitely plenty of organisms to look at under the microscope.

My second favorite part has got to be the speakers! We've had almost ten so far, and they have been both interesting and informational. The speakers studied various subjects like the deep sea, ice cores, malaria, ant behavior and bird songs. Their “paths” were also rather fascinating to me, some of them said that they had known from very young what they wanted to study, and others took some time before they found what they were passionate about. Amongst all the speakers, most said that what led them to where they are today is simply doing what seemed fun and interesting, and seeing where it led them.

Another thing about this Biodiversity or History of Life internship that is unique in itself is the fact that we are working in a group of around 18 or 19 students. Instead of just doing individual work in a lab, we collaborate in group discussions, and we work in pairs to more efficiently do data collection. It's amazing because in school, I always dread group projects because oftentimes, the people I am paired up with are not always willing to share the work and cooperate. It's rather different here because everyone is passionate about science - and it creates a fantastic ambience that allows us to work together well. I think one of the things that I learned quickly these couple of weeks is that science is all about collaboration. Not much can be done alone, but working as a group can allow us to accomplish much more.