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Kelly Tung

Returning to this program has been a blast

June 28th, 2022

Returning to this program has been a blast this summer – especially because it is in-person! The Stanford Earth Young Investigators Internship program has been a mixture of fun, growth, and learning for the past few weeks!

I’m working as a biodiversity intern this year, and I get to work with the wonderful Dr. Pedro Monarrez again! He’s an amazing mentor and so far, he’s taken us to the best food places on campus. We’ve been to the tasty cafeteria in the Business department, the plentitude of restaurants in Tresidder Union (including CoHo – my favorite!), and the cozy Coupa Cafe. Pedro had also given us the opportunity to get involved with Stanford on a more personal level, such as attending the “Coffee Combos” that Stanford’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Office holds each month to celebrate different cultures and groups. 

Here is my group :) Left is McKenna, right is Sakeena, and middle is me!

I’m interning with McKenna Anderson and Sakeena Saber – both are very bright, friendly, and talented individuals! We’re working together to collect data for calculating the metabolic index (Φ) of modern marine organisms, specifically finding the tiering, motility, feeding, and body size of different species. I’m currently working on the Gastropoda class, which is a large part of the Mollusca phyla. Some of the resources that we are using for data collection and our own project include OBIS (Ocean Biodiversity Information System) and the Fossil Animal Genera database. 

Equation for calculating the metabolic index.

Our data collection will be used to answer a bigger research question: “Can we use the metabolic index to predict the biogeography and selectivity of the End-Permian Mass Extinction?” Essentially, we are collecting ecology data for modern species and comparing it to that of prehistoric species to see if there are any trends or correlations between them. Then, we plan on using these identified relationships to extrapolate and predict future trends and data points. I find this research really interesting because not only are we looking at a broad range of traits, but we are traversing through geologic timescales to find connections in our past, present, and future.

As you can tell, I particularly love the schedule for this program because it allows interns to get a feel for college life and be able to explore campus while developing new relationships with their peers. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, all of the interns participate in mini field trips, campus tours, and presentations by Stanford’s faculty. These interactive activities are always super exciting (special thanks to Sierra Castaneda and Dr. Jennifer Saltzman for hosting them) and give us a glimpse into a variety of diverse scientific fields in a social and interesting way. I’ll keep you updated on these activities in my next blog post!


More than halfway there!

July 19th, 2022

I can’t believe that I’m already more than halfway through this phenomenal program. As promised in my last blog post, I’m excited to talk more about the activities that Sierra and Dr. Saltzman lead during the Stanford Earth Young Investigators Internship.

On Tuesdays, Sierra usually takes us to different “Stanford landmarks” (as I like to call them) after lunch. For example, we’ve visited the refreshing Red Hopp fountain outside of the Cecil H. Green Library where students and visitors can dip their feet into the water. We’ve also seen the Rodin Sculpture Garden outside of Stanford’s Cantor Arts Center, which is full of beautifully sculpted bronze statues. And the Cactus Garden tour was super interesting as well – I didn’t know that Stanford had so many unique florae around campus! Being able to visit diverse locations on campus made me fall in love with Stanford all over again.

​​Taking a group picture at the Cactus Garden!

One of my personal favorite activities was the field trip to Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve. The preserve provides a rich resource for the Stanford community to conduct research on earth and environmental systems. It also has a deep connection and history with the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe; in fact, both Stanford University and Jasper Ridge sit on the ancestral land of the tribe. Many of the Muwekma Ohlone’s historical and cultural locations have been maintained and protected. One such landmark is the Rattlesnake Rock, where tribe members ground hand-made pestles into the rock and created mortar-shaped indents.

Amazing view on the trail!

I really enjoyed this trip because it allowed me to immerse myself in nature and discover hidden plants and animals that I had never seen before. One of the coolest plants I saw was the Equisetum hyemale, which is a bamboo-like, evergreen perennial plant also known as rough horsetail. My tour guide also showed us the variety of oak trees that were in the preserve, and many of them had wireless digital camera traps attached to them. These traps record the surroundings nearby and capture pictures of different animals, such as mountain lions, turkeys, deers, coyotes, and jackrabbits. I learned a lot about the ecosystem at Jasper Ridge; in fact, many of the specimens rely on symbiotic relationships with each other in order to survive. We also visited the Jasper Ridge Herbarium during the excursion; it was my first time seeing a preserved collection of plants. Jasper Ridge plans on digitalizing their plant collections so that researchers across the world can use them for scientific study!

Equisetum hyemale.

Thursday lunches are for Dr. Saltzman – and the amazing students, faculty members, and professors she invites! They all come from different scientific fields and give us presentations about their work at Stanford. For example, Dr. Elliot White talked about his thesis on the relationship between time, space, and environmental change. Professor Scott Fendorf explained his lab’s research on how metal toxins and contaminants enter our food and water. On top of that, we also had PhD students Kyle Pietrzyk and Omar Cortez share their work on energy resources engineering and environmental justice respectively. Learning about each presenter’s research journey was really inspirational, and I hope to follow their paths in the near future.

Plant collections in the Jasper Ridge Herbarium.

With only a few weeks left of the program, I’m excited to present our research to the rest of the SEYI interns and Stanford faculty as well as submitting our abstract to the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting Conference 2022. In my next (and final) blog post, I’ll be sharing about my team’s research project, utilizing R and data science as an extension of our data collection, and a reflection of my time at the internship! It’ll be jam-packed – a great finale for an amazing program.

Selfie with my research project partners :)


End of my SEYI Journey, Start of New Scientific Journey

August 5th, 2022

As the end of the Stanford Earth Young Investigators Biodiversity Internship draws near, I find myself already reminiscing the learning, relationships, and research at SEYI over the past few weeks. I’ll address them in reverse order for my final blog – starting with my research.

Beyond the data collection we conducted on body size and ecology data, my group also worked on a separate research project as well, which we submitted to the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting Conference 2022. Our abstract title is “Comparing the Latitudinal Ranges of Genera of Mollusca and Arthropoda Before and After the End-Permian Extinction”. For our research, we hypothesized that marine mollusks and arthropods survived the end-Permian mass extinction by moving to higher latitudes.

Results from our research project!

As I was familiar with language R and the statistical tests needed to conduct this research project, I completed all of the coding and data analyses. The first step was to sort the Paleobiology Dataset into the classes with the most available data to represent the Mollusca and Arthropoda phyla: Bivalvia, Cephalopoda, Gastropoda, and Ostracoda. Next, I subsetted the genera that survived the end-Permian extinction by checking that each genus had at least one occurrence in the Changhsingian (late Permian) and Induan (early Triassic) periods. Then it came to plotting the paleolatitude distribution of each class before and after the Permian/Triassic transition: I found that all classes exhibited a poleward shift north, and my result was statistically significant via the Welch t-test. In order to demonstrate that there was no sampling bias, I created a randomized dataset and compared it with the original dataset. The final step was to run the Kolmogorov-Smirnov test to ensure that the randomized dataset was significantly different from the original dataset – and that marked the end of the coding part of our research project!

SEYI interns at the top of the Hoover Tower.

Our project wouldn’t have been so successful without help from Dr. Monarrez, Jood, and Dr. Payne. I am sincerely thankful for their feedback, guidance, and suggestions. Working in a professional, rigorous environment where I’ve been constantly inspired by such amazing professors and mentors was a truly phenomenal experience. Of course, I’m equally grateful to have been able to develop relationships with like-minded and passionate peers at SEYI. Like me, each and every single intern is truly dedicated to giving back to the scientific community. Lastly, I want to thank Dr. Saltzman and Sierra for running this terrific program and giving students the opportunity to conduct groundbreaking research while experiencing college life at the same time.

Pizza-making :D

Now on to the learning part of this internship. What I really love about this program is that it offers perpetual learning and growth, which makes the learning experience so much more meaningful (especially the lab tours and make-your-own-pizza day at the farm). For one, I’ve grown so much as a research leader over the duration of this internship; I led our research project as the first author, discussions and meetings, abstract writing, data collection, communication with mentors, and so much more. I really enjoyed sharing the knowledge I learned during last year’s internship with my teammates, and I’m proud that I took on a leadership role this year especially when our mentor was unavailable. 

Though the internship itself has ended, the invaluable knowledge and experiences I’ve gained will stay with me forever – even as I continue onto my next scientific research journey.

I’ll miss my research group so much.