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Lauren Nolen

The Greatest Experience

posted August 07, 2015

This summer has ended, and it seems way too soon. It feels so strange to not wake up early, and I can already tell I’ll be counting down the days until AGU. It’s definitely been difficult at times (like when our entire research project almost fell apart), but I think that’s the nature of research.

For our research project, we wanted to study the differences between pathogenic and nonpathogenic bacteria species. Our general findings were that, while there wasn’t a difference between nonpathogen and pathogen bacteria size, the difference in environmental pH and temperature was huge. In general, pathogens occupy a much smaller range of preferred environmental values. One interesting find is that pathogenic maximum temperatures were close to the temperature of human fever, suggesting not only divergent but co-evolution with the host! While doing this research, I learned so much more about using R, the programming language, and I know that I’ll definitely be able to use it in the future for independent projects.

When we presented our research poster on the last day, I felt very proud of all that we’d accomplished in just 7 short weeks. It wasn’t just an amazing chance to explain our research, but a chance for me to feel like a true scientist. On a quick side note, if there’s one thing I’ve learned this summer, it’s that there are no “typical” scientists. Anyone can do science, as long as they have a question they want to find an answer to! Anyways, I can’t wait to show it off at AGU this December, as I’m sure it will be equally amazing.

Overall, my second summer here was just as great as the first. When I first applied, I was almost positive that I wouldn’t get in. I can honestly say that applying for this was the best decision I’ve made in my life so far, as I’ve made countless memories, conducted research, and have actually contributed to larger research projects. This was yet another best summer ever. I’m so happy that I came back.

Pathogens, R, and the Marine Station

posted July 15, 2015

I can’t believe it’s already the fifth week. So much has happened, and all the interns have started work on our independent research projects. My partner Kim and I decided to look at pathogenic prokaryotes. We’re wondering if there’s a discrepancy in cell size between pathogenic and non-pathogenic prokaryotes. In order to learn more about pathogens and their interactions with their hosts, we visited the Biology Library and took notes from papers on cell size and bacterial metabolisms. Afterwards, we dove right into data collection, as well as figuring out the best way to utilize the program R. Right now, we’re working on making a boxplot that compares all the compiled size data. R was definitely difficult at first, but I think that Kim and I have gotten better at it. Our hope is that our major graphics will be finished by the end of this week. I've attached a photo of our code as well. All the interns have different, interesting projects, and I’m looking forward to seeing how everyone’s research turns out.

Last week, the History of Life and General Program interns took a trip to the Hopkins Marine Station in Monterey. I’ve posted a photo of the station below (courtesy of Joanne Ma, a General Program Intern). It was a lot of fun, since I’d never been to a field research station before. There were also a few labs doing interesting research, and...

We’ll be going to Pinnacles National Park next Monday for the overnight camping trip. I’m definitely excited to go camping, and I’ll be sure to write about it for the next post!

Interns sitting on rocks
R code on a screen


Move Over, Bacteria’s In Town!

posted July 02, 2015

It’s my second year at History of Life, and I can already say that I am very happy to be back! On Orientation Day, I was actually pretty nervous at the thought of meeting my new fellow interns and at the thought of working on organisms other than ostracods. However, my fears soon subsided, and after these first 2.5 weeks, I can confidently say that I had nothing to worry about.

Within the first two days I learned about tons of new concepts and mechanisms, many of which I’d had no idea about prior to this summer. One of these relevant mechanisms was the process involving bacteria using different elements and compounds for food. They accomplish this through redox reactions. The redox reaction part was particularly interesting to me, because I could use the facts I’d learned in chemistry and biology for real life situations. In fact, I’ve learned a lot about bacteria in the past couple weeks. If you had asked me to recognize an organic acid metabolism from a data set just a few weeks ago, I wouldn’t have had a clue what to say! My data collection partner Hefan and I work really well together, and we help each other to understand some of the fuzzier concepts (like the difference between chemoorganoheterotrophs and chemolithoautotrophs). Honestly, bacteria are actually a lot cooler than I had originally thought, especially because of the large impact they have on the environment and on humanity despite their simplicity.

Exciting events occurred as well! We had our first field trip last Friday, and we went to the New Brighton and Pomponio State Beaches. I’d been to New Brighton before, but I was absolutely amazed by how different the landscape was due to the high tide. Parts of the beach were inaccessible, and there was beautiful moss growing along the rocks as well. The fossils there were so intricate, you could swear someone had drawn the markings on with a sharpie. Pomponio State Beach was brand new for me, and I was able to see trace fossils in a natural setting for the first time. It made me wonder about the kind of trace fossils humans might leave behind millions of years from now. There were quite a few interesting critters found there, but I particularly loved the tiny sand crabs, which swarmed your feet and hands if you even touched the wet shore!

I’ve definitely been able to settle in well, and I’ve already become good friends with my fellow interns, who are both knowledgeable and fun. We’ve also seen quite a few presentations, ranging from a study on the Drosophila fruit fly to stromatolites from billions of years ago. It’s only been 13 days, but they’ve been days packed with facts and discoveries. I’ve already learned so much in these past few days, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the future!

Best. Summer. Ever.

posted August 08, 2014

So the internship is over, but I’ll definitely never forget it. During the last week we all finished up our research projects and posters. My group (Juliette, Lesly Ann, and I) asked whether geographic distance influenced body size. After graphing our results on plots and maps, we found that there is no correlation between distance and body size. This is interesting because one would expect that two nearby occurrences would be closer in size than two that are very far from each other. On the last day of the internship, we presented our findings to the interns from the general program. I can’t wait until AGU (American Geophysical Union) in December, when we’ll present our poster and research.

Looking back, I’ve done, seen, and learned about so much in the past 8 weeks that it’s hard to comprehend. I went tide pooling for the first time this summer, and held live sea urchins and crabs. I think one of the most interesting things however was seeing the many scientific going on in the paleobiology lab as well throughout the school of Earth sciences. This, along with the many papers we read, showed that there are so many different ways of being a part of the scientific community, and so many different projects going on that are helping us to better understand the world we live in.

Back in March, writing the application to get into the program, I had a moment where I thought that I shouldn’t apply. That one decision to apply anyways has put me on such a different trajectory. There’s no questioning the fact that this summer was by far the most interesting and most thought-provoking that I have ever experienced. The internship is over now, but I’ll always remember it as an intellectual adventure that, strange as it sounds, I know has changed my life, and the way I think about life on Earth. This History of Life Internship was amazing, and I’m so happy I got this opportunity.

So much has happened...

posted July 22, 2014

So much has happened since my last post I don’t know where to begin. We’ve gone on two field trips and have started working on our final research projects this week. On our first field trip we went to UC Berkeley’s Paleontology Department and got a tour of their research museum. We also got to see how the Berkeley Stadium had been affected by the Hayward fault line that runs beneath it.

The next field trip was overnight Pinnacles National Park, just last week. There was a five mile hike, and even though it was super tiring, the views were definitely worth it. Afterwards we set up our tents and went to sleep. This was an especially interesting experience for me because I’d never been hiking or camping before! The next day we looked for fossils on a road, and found a lot of different specimens to take back to Stanford. Next week, we’re going tide pooling, and I’m definitely looking forward to it.

On campus, we’ve done a lot more work with the programming language R. Although it was incomprehensible at first, I’m starting to get the hang of it. I’m working on a research project with Juliette and Lesly Ann, and R is going to be a big help. The focus of our project is to compare the mean size of ostracods from different places and times. Hopefully we will soon be able to plot the data on a map, which will help both us and others to interpret our data.

Overall, everything’s been amazing, and I’m super excited for next week!

First Days

posted Jun 29, 2014

So far, this internship has been, in short, amazing. I’ve learned so much more than I ever could have imagined going in, from the fossils we study, the papers we read, and the topics we study. That’s not even mentioning how nice everyone’s been at Stanford and in the program.

Each day we read and discuss something different, before moving on to data collection. We even have a chance to look at the fossil collections, which are much more diverse than I could have imagined. Inspecting the rocks has helped me to see what rocks have fossils and what rocks do not. We also read research papers and discuss what we have learned and our thoughts about it. I’m also getting more accustomed to a computer program called “R”, and it’s getting easier for me every day. We finish off by collecting data from the volumes on ostracods, transferring the information into Excel spreadsheets.

One thing that I really thought about this week was the large time span of Earth and life. Humans have been on Earth for such a tiny percent of the time ostracods have. It’s interesting how much animals about a millimeter wide can change your perception of time and life.

The atmosphere at Stanford has been unforgettable. Everyone's extremely friendly and willing to talk and answer your questions. All of my fellow interns are really friendly and interesting too. Already it’s an awesome experience and I’m so excited for the rest of the summer!