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Sidhant Idgunji

Research Interns of Future Mad Scientists?

posted August 07, 2015

As the summer comes to a close, I keep thinking about how fast this internship flew by. I have so many memories of the things we have done and I don’t think I’ll ever forget my two summers at Stanford.

For the last four weeks, all the interns worked on their research projects. The most difficult parts of our project were using R to write our code, and gathering cell type data from literature to measure biocomplexity. However, with Noel’s help, we received actual results from our work. Our data shows that there is a positive correlation between organism body size and complexity. However, one exception is that there is a negative correlation between the body size of echinoderms and their respective complexities. This begs the question: what makes them so different? I hope to answer this question in further research at some point in the future. However, gaining and presenting actual results was something new for me, and I look forward to presenting my findings at AGU in December.

We also went on an overnight trip to Pinnacles National Park, where we discovered different fossils in outcrops just off of the road. It was an incredible experience where we got to learn about geology and paleobiology out in the field.

In conclusion, these past two summers have been a life-changing experience, and they have shown me what I want to do with my future. I owe so much to all the mentors and other interns who have supported and memed with me. I’m sure that all future interns will have just as much fun and learn as much as I did. I especially want to thank Noel Heim for being a fantastic mentor, Jon Payne for letting me work in his lab, and Jenny Saltzman for organizing this program.

Research Interns of Future Mad Scientists?

posted July 15, 2015

So far this summer I have experienced so many things that its hard to believe the internship is only halfway done. One thing I’m pretty proud of is the History of Life team. A few weeks ago we were literally strangers, and we formed this trusting cohesive unit that has a great time every day in Geo Corner.

One of the activities the interns did was a field trip to the Hopkins Marine Station in Monterey, which is Stanford’s oceanside research institute. There, we got to observe the tide pools and check out the organisms that lived there. There was a wide variety of life, which included larger organisms like birds, fish, seals, and otters. However, we got an up close look at the smaller organisms that lived there, like the crabs and the urchins. I had a nice bonding moment with an urchin, a feeling for which I have no words to describe.

In addition to the regular microbacteria data collection, all the History of Life interns have started research projects. These projects entail hours of structuring and analyzing information different prehistoric and modern marine organism phyla with the statistical coding language R. While it seems like a lot of work, it does give a real insight into the life of a scientist, as opposed to what one may see on TV. My research interest this summer is discovering the relationship between body size and organism complexity. Essentially, the question I am asking is whether or not an animal becomes more complex as it becomes larger. In the grand scheme of things, this project explores the thermodynamic law of entropy, which states that all systems break down and become simpler. However, if my research shows that organisms are becoming more complex, it could be contradicting the law of entropy. This means that the natural condition of life contradicts a law of nature, and that really just shows how amazing life is.


My first three weeks working at Stanford this year...

posted July 04, 2015

My first three weeks working at Stanford this year were filled with interesting experiences and exciting new prospects. Returning to Geo Corner was nostalgic and I remember all the good memes I had with everyone. The activities we have done in the past few weeks have shown me how fun this summer is going to be.

When I returned, I expected to be working with ostracods like I did last year. Instead, Noel told us that our research was going a different direction. Instead of measuring the body sizes of those tiny crustaceans, we would be looking at different phyla of bacteria and recording both physical and chemical data about them. The data we work with is…different in the sense that information is a little more difficult to gather because we have to read through the chapters and identify data points from lengthy paragraphs. However, this new form of data collection is interesting because it provides more of a learning opportunity. In addition, we can also work with more than just the body size of these organisms, although that is our main focus.

In addition to the basic data collection, another fun thing the History of Life group did was a field trip to New Brighton State Beach in Santa Cruz. We got to see actual fossils preserved in a rock layer, as well as some bones from 5 million year old whales (youngsters according to Noel).

These are just a handful of the things we’ve done so far, and I can’t wait to go back every day for the rest of my summer.


An Unforgettable Experience

posted August 08, 2014

My last 3 weeks at Stanford have been great. During this time, we completed our final projects, collected some data, analyzed fossils, discussed papers, and went on a field trip to the tide pools. Now that the internship is over, it feels strange not going to the Braun Hall every morning and seeing my fellow interns.

The last 3 weeks were mainly focused on our project. My partner Aditya and I upgraded from using just ostracod data to using 6 different types of animals (arthropods, chordates, mollusks, echinoderms, ostracods, and brachiopods. We discovered that our data did not have significant values to show that extinctions were responsible for a change in body size of animals. At the end of our internship, we got to present our findings to everyone else.

Our last field trip was to New Brighton State Beach, where we looked at the Purisima Formation and found tons of fossils, including whale bones, buried in rocks. We also went to the tide pools in Pebble Beach and saw tons of creatures from the intertidal zones like crabs, sea urchins, starfish, barnacles, and bivalves.

After that Noel let us look at whale and dolphin bones, as well as a closet full of fossils.

Whale bone

 The week after, we went to the farm, and the interns there showed us the effectiveness of different soils. We also got to make pizza from scratch, which was cool.


These past 8 weeks have been unforgettable, and I want to thank Noel for being a great mentor and an enjoyable person to work with, Jenny for giving me this opportunity, and Jon Payne for giving extremely helpful feedback on our project. This program taught me the value of earth sciences and paleobiology, and it gave me a look into the life of a researcher. I can’t wait to see the other interns at AGU in December, and I can honestly say that my new favorite animal is the ostracod.


Getting Further Involved

posted July 23, 2014

The past 3 weeks have been an amazing and educating experience. Our group has done analyses of fossils, gone on trips, used R to effectively use all the data we have collected, and much more.

On the beginning of our 3rd week, our group visited UC Berkeley and explored the campus. We went to the Valley Life Sciences Building where the giant Tyrannosaurus Rex is kept as well as a number of other fossils. There, we met Ms. Lisa White, who assigned us a number of fossils to classify. We also got to see the fossil collection, which included dinosaur fossils like Dilophosaurus, ancient mammals like Smilodon, and many microfossils. After that, we walked over to the Cal Memorial Stadium, which is situated on the Hayward fault. Because of that, we could see that the northeast half of the stadium is being shifted to the south. We could also see some architectural implements that helped the stadium withstand the effects of the fault.


We also went on an overnight trip to Pinnacles National Park near the Salinas Valley. On the first day we hiked about five miles and saw many different types of rock formations. It was a good team bonding experience. When we reached the top of the trail we could see the layers of different rocks on mountains and the effect of the San Andreas Fault on the unique formations. On the second day, we drove to rock formations near King City. The rocks we picked up were from the Monterey Formation, and the organisms we found in the rocks were mostly from the Miocene. We found numerous brachiopods, bivalves, and crabs along the road.

Rock formation
Hiker in a red shirt

While these trips were a great fun and learning experience, they were not the only highlights of my past three weeks. Working at Stanford has also become a lot of fun. We were assigned our final projects, and my partner and I decided to do our project on how the body size of ostracods affected their extinction selectivity. What we plan to do is show which body size was preferable over the five major extinctions and because I have become accustomed to using R, the data I collect and enter is plotted on histograms so I can use later. Aside from that, we all get to look at many, many fossils.

Baby Steps to Becoming a Scientist

posted Jun 29, 2014

My first two weeks in the Stanford History of Life Program have been very informative. Learning about body size evolution while being part of a team that extensively documents information on ostracod fossils is a new and exciting experience for me. Also, the informative and deep discussions we have on various papers that refer to body size evolution over time has exposed me to the life of paleontologists and other scientists who work in that field. Even though putting specific details of ostracod species is kind of boring, we did learn how to use the programming language R to plot the measurements of all the documented species, which is a very valuable tool.