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Ryan Kim

Is this the end?

posted August 12, 2017

After an amazing internship program, I have to wonder: is this the end? Do I go home now and live the rest of my life doing schoolwork and getting involved in all the drama of a high school life, putting this experience down as just another program over summer?

No. Because unlike all of those other programs, this one made me learn something. It helped me build connections, understand and conduct research data collection and analysis for the first time, and I even got to feel like part of the Stanford community -- at least for a while.

When I first got accepted into this program, I was stunned; I thought I butchered my essays, and my scores weren't the best in the world, but somehow I had gotten into an internship at STANFORD, land of geniuses! And yes, that is something to be proud of, but I learned that good writing skills, luck, and decent test scores are so far from defining people. The hard work they put in, the fact that “geniuses” are normal people too, and the overall fun and dedication along these projects have shown me: “it's not what you are underneath, but what you do, that defines you.” (Batman et al. 2005).

In all seriousness, however, I never once regretted being in this program. Thanks to Jenny, who structured everything and made sure we had enough fun time to socialize with other like-minded individuals as well as work hard in research, we had a smooth program over the summer.

Special thanks -- and deepest gratitude -- to Noel, my supervisor, mentor, and friend (I hope) throughout these 8 weeks. He is a genuinely kind, forgiving, and accepting person, no matter your quirks or excuses, and he really cares for his students (as seen by his research/coding/food guidance and support). So thank you, Noel, for an awesome summer, and I hope you enjoyed the collage David and I made (with courtesy of pictures from all of the biodiversity interns).

Maybe I should make this short for once, instead of forcing my mentor to read through this whole spiel. Whoops.

This is not the end: not of our relationships, not of our passion and interests in research, and certainly not in the study of the natural world. Glad to have been a part of this community, and I'll be sure to spread the word about the great studies going on right now.

The guys - Saket/Alex/Hui/Andrew Vo :/
Pile of cookies ft. Modern Art
All the books we covered: 51 finished, 9 in progress
Saket and Andrew with their poster, final day presentation
David’s beautiful gopher adventure cards
Noel’s great food :)

It has been a while since my last blog post...

posted August 01, 2017

It has been a while since my last blog post because of our busy schedules. The internship is still as awesome as it was on the first week, but we’ve all gotten used to each other now -- we’re much more familiar and friendly with each other, which is another nice break away from the more awkward or tedious parts of our work, which are getting more and more infrequent…

Working with Noel is fantastic! He’s super generous and understanding, and he’s one of the nicest teachers — and people in general — that I’ve met. One time, when it was one of the interns’ birthdays, Noel baked a delicious cake for him (handmade). It takes dedication to do something like that for a student you’ll only know for 8 weeks — but Noel is one of those phenomenal people. I’m very lucky to have him as my mentor throughout this internship.

Noel’s awesome baking skills. It was a bad idea to eat a big lunch those days.
Fossilized shells from the Miocene (I think). Found on our way to Pinnacles. Fun to explore random cliff-faces and break open rocks looking for marine fossils… in a desert-like region.

We went to Pinnacles National Park a couple of weeks ago, where we went on a geology hike to study the different rock types and how they were shaped by the San Andreas fault and surrounding fault movement. While we were preparing to sleep, some of the interns captured a black widow, among other strange arthropods, and put them into an empty water bottle to duke it out in a battle royale. It was very impressive how brave some of the interns were; if I had discovered the black widow first, I would probably have either destroyed it or run away, or maybe both. These sorts of short and meaningful experiences tell me a lot about what sort of people are working here, and these small scenes are inspiring me to be more curious rather than fearful of the natural world, no matter how dangerous or frightening it might seem.



Top of Pinnacles -- at least, the peak we hiked up to. About 3.4 miles roundtrip I believe? Going down was definitely easier.
Beautiful night sky at Pinnacles -- courtesy of Saket.


An example of the measurements we do on butterflies (this one is quite huge); here, we are measuring the basal-apical length (wing-tip to thorax) in millimeters.

Throughout the internship, we have also listened to many speakers, notably Professor Don Lowe (who works here at the Braun Hall, studying rock samples from around the world) and Ken Peters (who works at Schlumberger and studies the usage of oil), who both provided valuable insight and inspired many questions on fossilization of certain components to form fossil-fuel kerogen. Professor Lowe taught us many interesting thing about rocks, like how ancient sedimentary rocks can even have bubbles of volcanic matter crystallizing after they were vaporized in prehistoric blasts. Mr. Peters introduced interesting opinions and perspectives on climate change, such as discussing how temperature may fluctuate before the flux of CO2 (implying that CO2 level increases are a result of, not a cause of, climate change). Both speakers provided valuable insight into different ideas and theories and made me ponder even more questions on how the natural world works...

Ken Peters, left, and Don Lowe, right, teaching us about certain aspects of rock and organism fossilization under extreme heat and pressure.
Don Lowe
Don Lowe

We’ve also completed many side projects, some of which include posters of the Geologic Time Scale, group thought maps of certain research papers we read, and, most prominently, our group research projects. Currently, my partner David and I are using body size, extinction rate, and feeding method data from Noel and Jon’s paleobiology dataset of marine organisms, specifically marine arthropods. While various studies have been conducted to determine the relationship between feeding mode and body size or natural extinction risk (as opposed to anthropogenic extinction), studies into marine arthropod evolution have been few and far-between, so David and I decided that would be a great question to research. We’ve come up with surprising trends; it seems that, although we have a limited data set and very broad error bars (meaning there may just be no correlation), marine arthropods’ extinction selectivity is not (or perhaps only slightly) predator-selective as opposed to non-predator selective. Furthermore, larger marine arthropods are more selected for extinction selectivity than smaller species. In our stratigraphic range graph, we’ve observed how predatory marine arthropods from 500 million years ago to about the End-Permian Mass Extinction event (about 250 million years ago) evolved towards larger body sizes, probably because of their food resources available (and because they were mostly trilobites, which went extinct with the End-Permian). However, non-predatory arthropods greatly diversified in species, probably because they diversified their eating mechanisms to be more filter-feeding or mining. These non-predatory marine arthropods also evolved to become smaller, perhaps due to niche distribution and sharing with other, different feeding-mechanism arthropods. Both predatory and non-predatory marine arthropods do not exist in our dataset’s account of their fossil record for the next 75 million years or so until about 150 million years ago, when the arthropods return in full force to the fossil record in our data. However, in the more modern eras, both non-predatory and predatory arthropods are quite large, perhaps due to changing climates and food resource availability from the soot and CO2 released from the Siberian Traps volcanoes that caused the End-Permian Mass Extinction.

Blackboard with code
Some code we’ve done in R to figure out how to write loops -- and how to find bugs in our lines of code.

So far, it’s been great to be part of such a diverse and dedicated group of researchers and scientists; I’m really enjoying meeting new people, actually conducting and analysing research data, and generally feeling more “sciencey” than I’ve ever been in my life. Im bubbling with questions all the time on how certain things work — of course many of these questions go to R coding, which is still very difficult for me — and I’m really learning to push my boundaries (in terms of comfort zone — coding — and interests — various lectures and questions). This program has great support and fun activities for interns to both educate them in a fun way and provide frequent breaks from more menial tasks like measuring butterflies — of which my partner, Noah, and I have documented about 2600 species. Time flies too fast in this program; if only this was my real school...

Intern sitting in front of a computer
Noah pondering how to program his life. Or maybe just how to fix this code.

This is my first time in a research program like this...

posted July 07, 2017

This is my first time in a research program like this; I have never interned or researched before, and it's been a great learning experience on how to read
textbooks dedicated to scientific research. Everyone is so dedicated to the study and growth of our understanding of our world, and I’m very happy to be a part
of this fun group. The educational opportunities — all of the small group work we do, the lectures we hear, and the side activities like field trips and intern
meetings — all help to improve my understanding of the natural world and how people act to better see trends and patterns in how species evolve or react based
on ecological changes. While learning and asking many questions is very fun and exciting, I’ve found that butterfly measuring is actually quite interesting as
well. While it could be seen as tedious work, as we spend a couple hours every day measuring the butterfly basal-apical and body size lengths, the measurements
help me improve my communication and teamwork skills with my partner, whom I have grown to be accustomed to. We are a great team, and have now documented about
1200 species; by measuring butterfly lengths and learning about who discovered them and where or when the discovery was made, we can learn more about the history
of not only how the butterflies may change in body size in reaction to environmental changes, but also how people react to the discovery of new species in the
presence of certain global events. For example, many discoverers documented their species in the late 1700’s, mid-1800’s, and particularly 1914 — the start of
World War I. Perhaps that is why not much research was able to be conducted from 1914-1918, as the world was largely focused on preserving national regimes rather
than documenting new butterfly species. Overall, it was interesting to observe patterns between butterfly discoveries and the dates or nationalities of their
discoverers, as those facts indicate how people’s focus on scientific research changed in reaction to shifting human priorities and interactions.

After our first session of recording butterfly measurements, my partner and I took a break to see the work we had done. To me, as it was my first time actually
being involved in data collection and research, it was incredible to see that I was involved with 18 of my peers in this internship to help actual professors
conduct important, real-world research that contributes to a better understanding of evolution and biodiversity changes based on geological time and effects. In
the first couple of days, we documented about 600 butterflies, and I was very impressed with how, although the work sometimes felt tedious, we had zoomed through
a large portion of our thick textbook, finishing up the first few days of research with a great start. I didn’t know we were capable of doing so much in such
relatively short time; the research experience helped me gain a better understanding of how researchers in the real world conduct data collection and analysis,
which in turn provided a more accurate perspective on how much effort people put into publishing scientific papers we take for granted.

From my experience researching and reading scientific research papers — as well as hearing many lectures — I have a more concrete sense of how broad the
spectrum of “environmental science and study” really is; it involves thousands of people with different interests and focuses on how to conserve and understand
our environment, which is a very commendable goal indeed. I’ve been thinking a lot on how to apply the knowledge I’ve recently learned to my life outside the
campus; I’ve been looking into books that Noel (my professor and head of the biodiversity program) recommended, such as Merchants of Doubt, by Erik M. Conway
and Naomi Oreskes — which discusses how the same people who denied the obvious correlation between smoking and lung cancer are denying climate change in the
face of the vast majority of scientists agreeing on anthropogenic climate change. As I’m interested in international relations concerning climate change, it
is interesting to see how much effort experts delve into in order to reach scientific conclusions on how we are affecting our environment — and this research,
in turn, helps political figures and environmental activists make more cognizant decisions regarding social policy and reform.

A fun fact about what I’ve learned from the lectures and papers we’ve been reading is that based on Professor Payne and Heim’s recent paper, the "Anthropocene"
is indeed very different from previous extinctions, both mass and background, in that it targets mainly motile and larger organisms rather than their habitat zones,
which is how past extinction events worked. This differentiation between past and present extinction influences demonstrates how humans are making a profoundly
negative impact on our environment, further supporting the need for more regulation of human activity in the biosphere.

I suppose I can proudly call myself a “Stanford Earth Science Intern” because I am actually involved in direct science; I’m helping measuring butterfly
basal-apical lengths and body sizes, I’m reading more research papers and hearing more scientific lectures than I’ve ever done in my life, and I’m generally
learning much more about the environment and my own interest in preserving it — a feeling that has grown greatly throughout my time here. I can’t wait to
come back tomorrow, next week, and every week until the end of summer to learn more about what I and others can do to help researchers and environmental
activists comprehend the scale of human impact on ecosystems and biodiversity.