A Summer Well Spent!
posted August 11, 2017
I'm actually writing this blog on time! And I am most definitely not being bribed to do so! Round of applause, yes, thank you all.
In all seriousness, I really would like to thank Noel for being an incredibly chill and helpful mentor, Jenny for organizing everything and for her endless supply of graham crackers, Emily for the fun lunchtime adventures, and Jon for welcoming us into his lab. The internship ended yesterday, and I was sad to have to bid farewell to all of my friends. But without further ado, I present to you my blog post about my last two weeks at Stanford:
We topped off July with a canoeing trip to the Marine Science Institute up in Redwood City. It was my first time canoeing, and I am ashamed to announce that my canoe was so slow that we had to get tie ourselves to an instructor’s canoe at the end. But I like to think of it as beginner's luck in reverse— the next time I hit the water, I might as well be Superman.
Stanford's massive campus is really a prime place for exploring (as I've mentioned a billion times already). In the last couple weeks I have grown very fond of a long, broken branch stretching across a ditch in the grove of trees by the Cantor Art Museum. It's just thick enough for me to walk across without it snapping—hence me calling it “tightrope branch”— though it does bend and bounce. I have made it across several times, reinforcing in the minds of my friends that I am completely nuts. I don't disagree! I also found an animal skull in a trench, complete with an awful stench. Staci and I went back to Lake Lagunita to catch frogs again and were shocked to find that the entire lake had dried up. We finally got to see Cantor this week as well, and I would dutifully like to report that there is a typo in the description of Leland Stanford Sr.’s portrait: “Caifornia” is not a state.
We've spent most of these last two weeks working on our research projects. Staci and I essentially recreated a time-environment diagram about the onshore offshore gradient and added color to show body size. We found that the mean body size of marine invertebrates increased from the Cambrian into the Ordovician and that they did get bigger as they moved offshore, particularly in the Ordovician. Poster presentations went well, and it was nice to see what the other interns had been doing too. The classroom environment is super chill (thanks Staci for letting me “tattoo” you and for bringing your guitar), and if I haven't mentioned this before, Noel is an incredible baker. Previous treats have included date squares and various cakes, and on our last Tuesday he brought homemade ice cream! We had a potluck on Monday, and as per usual, I stuffed myself to the brim.
Now that this internship is over, I can no longer use “work all day" as an excuse to ignore summer reading, but I still have a week left before senior year starts. I'm very glad I got to be a part of this program—now that I’ve seen what research is like and how much thought goes into it, I appreciate science much more. Again, thanks to Noel and the other interns for making biodiversity a blast— I hope to see you all again!
Crabs, Clams, and Camp
posted July 28, 2017
I’m tempted to make a pun about how quickly time has flown, but I already did that so consider yourself spared!
Our trip to Pinnacles mid-June started off much like that to Capitola, but with tents, sleeping pads, and far more bags. We stopped by Greenfield
for a sandwich lunch and then drove into a small valley. It might have been that my eyes were tired from seeing vast stretches of flat farmland, but
the valley was gorgeous: cows mooing in the distance and a pristine river snaking through golden hills dotted with the occasional cabin. We parked by
the side of the highway and walked across it for fossil collection in the exposed sedimentary rock. Sketchy? Kinda. Cool? Very much so! The first site
was filled with 10-15 million year old clams. The second had tiny crabs that were much harder to find, but I think everyone left with at least one. Makes
you wonder how many other fossil sites you drive by without knowing.
We arrived at Pinnacles National Park in the late afternoon and set up our tents. I had the luxury of sleeping in an eight-person tent with four others.
There were no activities planned until dinner, so I went exploring around the campsite with a couple friends. Finds/sightings include: acorn woodpeckers,
California scrub jays (thanks, Google, for finally telling me what those blue birds are), lizards, mice, hares, rabbits, many quail, half a dead rattlesnake,
fire ant mounds, velvet ants (which are actually wingless wasps that deliver one of the most painful insect stings), and deer. Seven deer, in fact, including
one stag. A friend and past intern, upon hearing about the wildlife I’d encountered, exclaimed with exasperation about how she hadn’t seen a thing. Eyes and
ears wide yields many a hide.
The dinner of fajitas was delightful. After completing my assigned chore of washing the dishes, we set up a blacklight and a sheet to attract some of
the moths we’d spent so many hours measuring. Not many showed up, but we did find a massive moth the length of my pinky finger. I also saw a shooting
star-- not my first, but certainly a nice way to wrap up the night.
Legend has it (read: Noel says) that two summers ago, raccoons stole four backpacks in the inky night and dumped the contents of one into a grove of
poison oak. We saw them sneaking around, but they left our things alone--much unlike the very annoying wasps that attacked our chicken dinner, and the
ants that took over one group’s tent. But while I shooed away a raccoon, I found something much cooler: a BLACK WIDOW SPIDER! My flashlight happened to
shine on it sitting in its web at the edge of a log, and I was absolutely ecstatic. A couple of the boys placed it in a bottle and kept it overnight.
Playing with the most dangerous spider in North America? Done.
Before heading home the next day, we went on a geology hike, consisting of 1.7 miles of incline with ten stops to examine the exposed rock. The
intense sun and high heat had me sweltering under my hat, but the view at the top of the mountain was great. The rock formations at Pinnacles aren’t
something I’d seen before. A sandwich lunch and the hike back down concluded our trip. I was a little disappointed that we couldn’t explore the caves,
but that’s an insignificant complaint considering both the great time I had and the relative closeness of Pinnacles-- there’s always the option to go
again on my own time.
The remainder of July was spent in similar fashion to June, with one notable exception: research projects are underway. My partner and I are
investigating whether there is a relationship between body size and the onshore offshore gradient. Previous studies have found that early in Earth’s
history, marine invertebrates didn’t start popping up all over the ocean. They actually originated close to the shore and moved outward on the continental
shelf over millions of years, sp we’re trying to find mollusks and brachiopods got bigger as they did so. We haven’t started making our graph yet, but we’ve
spent a number of hours collecting the reference and collection numbers that we need for our data. We’re actually re-creating a cluster diagram that the
original researchers made, but adding color to show how body size fits in.
As for everything else, we are still measuring butterflies, hearing lectures from various scientists, and having weekly lunch activities with the
environment/geology interns. I may have spent around 50 days at Stanford, but there’s still plenty to see; just a couple days ago, we walked through
an impressively large cactus garden with all kinds of odd succulents. With two weeks left, I’m going to attempt to make the most of my lunch breaks
with a healthy dose of tree climbing and jamming.
Butterfly Books and Barnacles
posted July 06, 2017
They say that time flies when you're having fun. It sure does, but I think it flies even faster when you're dealing with a couple million years of evolution in a day's work—and when you're measuring wings by the dozen. The past two weeks at Stanford have gone by in a flash, and I keep getting surprised when field trip or lunchtime activity dates sneak up on me.
At the start of this internship, the several emails saying "come early because you will get lost" led me to fully believe that I would, but alas, I rose above the prophecy and have been able to find my way around with ease. That isn't to say that Stanford is small, though. Our generous 1.5-hour lunch break has led to many an adventure around campus, of which my favorite has been exploring the shores of Lake Lagunita. I've caught and released a number of western fence lizards in my yard, but it was thrilling to see green, golden, and brown frogs leaping from one plant to another (photo below, hit me up with some species ID if you will!) Braun Hall is conveniently located near the heart of campus, which has also made getting here via public transportation an ease. Riding Caltrain and the Marguerite every day has been surprisingly pleasant.
Our focus for data collection this summer is Lepidoptera, and so far, my partner Staci and I have measured nearly a thousand butterflies from the catalogs. They are certainly a beauty to look at, but oftentimes, their species names are just as interesting. Need a name for your new baby? Try Zyzyxoxyx. Please take care to say it right. I've also learned that butterflies can get quite large. The biggest one in the neotropical regions that we've measured has had a forewing length of 6 centimeters, and atlas moths can get to be massive (this is your cue to google and be awed).
By far, the best part of this internship as of now has been the field trip to New Brighton State Beach in Capitola. As the kind of person who keeps her eyes peeled to the ground when walking along a beach, it was incredible to see 5 million year-old fossilized mollusks embedded in the cliffs. Once we saw our first whale rib in the rock, we began seeing them all along the shore, even stumbling across a whale skull! It's crazy to think about how the beach is the site a child's play while also being an ancient whale graveyard. A washed up stingray and a shark tooth stuck in a crevice were among other small yet exciting finds. Certainly beats buying a megalodon tooth in Las Vegas for three bucks.
This biodiversity internship has given me the opportunity to think a lot about the past, but also about the future: Dr. Gerritsen's speech about math/programming
in science and about keeping doors open has had a big impact on my ideas about college. I'm looking forward to the next few weeks, especially camping at Pinnacles National Park and starting the research project.