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Lauren Tsai

I can’t believe that this program has finally come to an end...

posted August 11, 2017

I can’t believe that this program has finally come to an end. It seems like just a week ago when we were all sitting in Mitchell during orientation, getting to know the other interns for the first time. Now summer is almost over and school is starting soon.

These last few weeks have definitely been the busiest. All the interns are rushing to finish their research projects and posters in time; it really has been a rollercoaster ride. Shannon and I have decided to research the effects of a butterfly’s geographic range, habitat distribution, and body size on its risk of extinction. In the beginning, we were very determined to find correlations between these factors and extinction risk. We wanted to find new patterns and prove previous conclusions wrong. We were able to create many different graphs to find possible correlations, but many did not show significant correlations or pattern. However, as Noel added more and more data to the files, we gradually began to see trends.

I did a lot of coding in R for this project. It was difficult and confusing at first, but it was also a fun challenge. Some days I would try to write code for graphs and spend most of the time figuring out why there was an error. Noel was so helpful during this project. He was always busy helping us interns and never grew frustrated with us even if he had to explain something multiple times. Some days he would even bring in homemade afternoon treats to share such as chocolate cake, date squares, and even ice cream. I’m really going to miss him after this program.

Before the program ended, we went on one last field trip. All the interns got to go canoeing! I have never been canoeing before, but I have been kayaking so I assumed it would be quite similar. First, we learned about the history of the San Francisco Bay and did some activities. Then, we brought the canoes out and set them on the shore. We also had to put on life jackets and get the right sized paddle. After that, we got a short lesson on the proper way to canoe and then we were off. As we paddled along, the staff pointed out the different animals and wildlife around like a cormorant drying its wings and getting ready to fly. We also tested the water for a couple of factors, such as its pH and oxygen content. After we ate lunch, we got to dig into the mud and see what kinds of creatures there were. Most of the things we found were small mussels and clams. Once we got back to shore we had to clean the canoes and paddles. We visited the aquarium and then it was time to go home.

Final presentations came faster than expected. We got to learn about what the other interns were doing in their labs and what they were researching. This was interesting because it was the first time that we actually got to see what other interns were doing here. After their presentations, we had a quick lunch break and it was time for the biodiversity interns to present. Our poster would not stop flying around and the wind kept blowing it off the poster board, but a couple more thumb tacks later, we were finally ready to present. Overall I thought the presentations went really well. Shannon and I have worked really hard this summer on this research project and I am really proud of what we had accomplished in such a short amount of time. It was also a really good learning experience. I’m really going to miss all the other interns and staff when the program is over but I hope we will all stay in touch.

More than half of this program has already gone by...

posted July 25, 2017

More than half of this program has already gone by, and I can’t believe how fast time is passing. These past few weeks have been filled with fun activities, presentations, and a camping trip. After FOUR WHOLE WEEKS of butterfly data collection, Shannon and I have finally finished our first book of butterflies. We were so happy when we finally finished the book and felt so accomplished. In total, Shannon and I have collected data of over 3000 butterflies. We also have started working on our research projects and also begun our natural history presentations. Shannon and I have decided to research how body size, geographic range, and distribution range affects the risk of extinction for butterflies.

One of my favorite presentations of this program was the one by Daniel Friedman. He is a biologist at Stanford who is studying ants and their behavior. He talked about how different colonies of ants had different ways of communicating with each other and wanted to know how each colony evolved to be different. His presentation was especially engaging because he included lots of fun visuals and also talked very casually while still conveying his scientific discoveries to us. At the end of the presentation, he also gave us a lot of good advice about our college path and life in general. Another thing I enjoyed was learning more about the programming language R. The more functions I learn about the more time I want to spend on the computer using the functions to construct graphs from our data. Although I spend most of my time trying to figure out why my code gave me an error, finally getting the code to work is surprisingly satisfying.

On Tuesday, July 11th, all the biodiversity interns went on a camping trip to Pinnacles National Park. After a quick stop for lunch at Patriot Park in Greenfield, we boarded back on the vans and drove to the first fossil collection site. When we stopped on the side of the road, I thought there was an emergency or something. Never would I have imagined that in the middle of farmlands and houses, there would be million-year-old fossils on the side of the road. It wasn’t hard for us to find the fossils; the rock piles were full of them. After about 15 minutes, we headed off towards our next stop which was where we would find crab fossils. Once again, the site was on the side of the road. Noel notified us that the fossils would be harder to find this time, but I was determined to find at least one. All the interned were piled on the side of the small cliff picking through all the rocks that were on the ground, trying to spot a tiny crab fossil. A minute of searching later, I saw two little red-orange figures on a rock. Even though it was hard to tell they were actually crabs, I was super excited that I had actually found one and couldn’t wait to show my family.

At the campsite, the first thing we did was set up our tents. We picked a spot under a big tree to help keep ourselves as cool as possible. For dinner, we had chicken fajitas and salad, but the wasps all swarmed the chicken and it was nearly impossible to get the chicken without being surrounded by them. When it got dark, we put up a white sheet and black light to attract insects. Our biggest catch (literally), was an Elegant Sphinx moth. Its body was about two inches long, and its wingspan was about four inches across. I also enjoyed looking at the stars. Without much light pollution, we were able to see so many more stars. Unfortunately, the moon was blocked by a tall hill when we were out. Most of us interns were disappointed at the fact that campfires were not allowed, but Noel surprised us with a sort of deconstructed s’mores. The next morning, we quickly packed up our tent and got ready to go on a geology hike. I have hiked in many national parks before but this hike was especially difficult because of the lack of shade and the scorching sun. I was so relieved when we finally reached the top of the trail and the beautiful views up top made it even more rewarding. After the hike, however, it was time to go back home.

There is still so much to do before the end of this program. We have a canoeing trip coming up, need to finish and present our research project, and also have many more butterflies to measure. The next three weeks of the program is going to be pretty intense, but I am sure that I will enjoy every moment.

Even though it has only been two weeks...

posted July 03, 2017

Even though it has only been two weeks since the program began, I feel like I have already learned and experienced so much. Being in the Biodiversity/History of Life program, I get to work with 18 other interns every Monday through Friday. This allows us to get to know each other quickly and has made it really easy for me to make new friends. We spend most of our time in Braun Hall measuring and recording butterflies. Shannon, my data collection partner, and I quickly became friends. We are constantly talking and laughing while collecting data, but Dr. Heim doesn’t seem to mind, as long as we’re still doing our work. Over the past two weeks, we have collected a little over twelve hundred butterfly measurements. Occasionally, Dr. Heim invites people working in the lab to come and give us a talk. We have learned about the evolution of insects, moths and butterflies, diversity in the tropical regions, and much more.

On Tuesdays, Emily, a graduate student at Stanford, takes all the interns on lunchtime activities. This past Tuesday, we went to Lake Lagunita where some interns were able to catch frogs. Wednesday after lunch, we have lab meetings where people working in the labs come to share what they are researching and the progress that they have made in their research. Sandra, one of the graduate students who is studying entomology, has given our group a few talks about insects. Since she is so passionate about insects, her presentations are always so interesting and informative. On Thursdays we have get-togethers with all of the interns where have activities or listen to speakers. So far, we have listened to Emily give us a talk about groundwater, Professor Margot Gerritsen who uses her mathematical skills in understanding energy resources engineering, and Shersingh Tumber-Davila who is studying plant roots.

This past Friday the biodiversity interns went on a field trip to Capitola. We stopped at New Brighton State Beach to explore the shell beds and fossils. As we were walking along the shore next to the cliffs, we saw a layer of shells about four inches thick near the bottom of the cliff. We were given a worksheet with different types of shell fossils and tried to see if we could identify any that were in the layer. The rocks near the water had all sorts of interesting things on them such as crabs, sea anemones, and fossils. Dr. Heim and Dr. Payne would sometimes stop to show and educate us on these fossils. They explained to us what part of the animal these fossils were of and what type of animals they could possibly be of. We ate lunch on the beach and caught some sand crabs. After that, we went to see the whale skeletons near the Joseph M. Long Marine Laboratory.

These past two weeks have gone by so fast and I have learned and experienced so much. Being a Stanford Earth Young Investigator had taught me so much about our earth. I can’t wait for what’s to come in the next few weeks at Stanford.