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Sean Decker

And thus our internship is over...

posted August 08, 2014

And thus our internship is over. After eight weeks of measuring ostracods and learning about earth science, it feels odd to sit at home for most of the day and struggle with what to do: to either sleep , eat, or watch tv.

Looking back, I’m happy with this summer. I learned a lot, especially about the geologic timescale. After recording eight books of ostracod species, which included writing down the geologic time period of the species, I have written Devonian and Ordovician enough times to know what they are and when they were. After reading so many articles about paleontology I have a vague understanding of mass extinctions and the Cambrian explosion. Yet, best of all, I have a newfound understanding of how research works. Research is time-intensive and sometimes redundant, but in the end more than rewarding.

Learned the most this summer from the research poster we made. Max and I made our poster in the end on stochastic models of ostracod biovolume. We made stochastic models by having the program R dictate the evolution of an imaginary population of ostracods. R did this modeling randomly in order to replicate the evolution of ostracods over the millennia if it were that ostracods evolved randomly. As it turned out, our stochastic models did not well match the observed evolution of ostracods. So we concluded that ostracods have not been randomly evolving overtime, but instead, some outside force has pushed ostracods to the size they are today.

It makes a lot more sense when read off of the poster Max and I made. We’re going to present it at AGU in a few months. That’ll be fun.

But for now and until then, it seems I shall be isolated from ostracods.

So now it is more than halfway through...

posted July 22, 2014

So now it is more than halfway through our internship. We are slowly whittling down the 50 ostracod books that we are planned to go through this summer, and our projects are vaguely coming to shape. For the project that I am doing with Max, we are creating stochastic trees, which are mostly just branching trees that simulate ostracod body size evolution as if it were evolving randomly with time. Then, over these trees, we will graph the ostracod body size data our fellow interns and we have been for so long cataloging. By examining the measured ostracod size data over our predicted random evolution data, we will be able to state whether ostracod body size has been either evolving randomly, in which case the measured body size data will match our stochastic trees, or evolving in a trend, in which case the data will not match our trees.

Moving on from our project, we have been doing some exploration in the real world, which is great because it allows us to avoid being confined to a second story room in the earth science building. On this camping trip, we got to see in context what for so long we had discussed in our classroom. We saw, igneous rocks in their natural habitats and got to ponder how they came to be. We also hunted for fossils, running around on the side of a freeway, where you needed to constantly look out for trucks speeding along the highway, we searched for fossils, fossils of mostly bivalves, crabs, and some gastropods.

Coming back to our cozy second story room in the earth science building, we would identify these assorted fossils we found, which is what I would label the most memorable part of the few weeks since I blogged last. We actually identified our own fossils! I have cataloged thousands of ostracods by now. Some were found by this guy who I know just by a name and location, Holden, others by a guy named Yee, and a ton by a guy named Somez-Goksen, who seems to always find his ostracod fossils 4 miles away from Incegiz, on the left bank of the Dniester River. But it was a huge deal to be dealing with fossils that we ourselves collected, not some old guys who were really into ostracods, but us.

So far...

posted June 30, 2014

So far, most of the work that we’ve done in the History of Life Internship has been centered around the task of measuring ostracods. The task of measuring ostracods consists of recording information about an ostracod from a large textbook sized book, then measuring the picture of the ostracod provided in the book using a caliper. This is repeated on the next page of the large textbook sized book. And this task is repeated at least for a little bit every day in the program.

I suppose it doesn’t sound quite interesting. Ostrocods aren’t exactly dinosaurs, and our large textbook sized books don’t quite inspire amazement. But the excitement of this internship doesn’t come from the performance of measuring the pictures of ostracods in the books. That excitement came about a week and a half into the internship, when, after hundreds of species of ostracods had been measured, we finally saw all of our ostracods measurements on a graph. It was a simple graph; it just showed the relationship between the lengths of ostracods to their total volume. But it represented the fact that we were doing something that would eventually allow us to see important facts about the development of life.

And so this is what it means to be a scientist. It is working for an ultimate goal. It is enjoying the fact that the work you are doing will in turn help our understanding of the world.

We still have far to go. We’ve been collecting data. Now the next step is to use that information to answer questions about the history of life. Right now, I only have a vague idea of what I’m going to do with my data. But after recording my next genus of ostracods, I’m sure I’ll come up with something.