Each year, graduating seniors majoring in EAPS present a thesis in completion of their Bachelor of Science Degree. This year we had a class of seven students specializing in areas across the Earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences. We asked them about their research, experience in EAPS, and advice for incoming students interested in the geosciences.
Investigating the Putative Diagenetic Origins for Neoproterozoic Sponge Steranes
Juliana Drozd (advisor Prof. Roger Summons)
Research: This work looks at the oldest potential evidence of animals in the form of fossilized sponge molecules (called biomarkers) and investigates a proposed origin stemming from algal molecules that have undergone changes as they become fossilized in the rock record. We found that, while we can produce "sponge" biomarkers from algal molecules, we can't do so at a scale relevant to the rock record, so this proposed pathway is unlikely to be the reason why we see these sponge molecules.
What's Next: I'm headed to Penn State in the fall to start my PhD in the geosciences under Professors Kate Freeman and Chris House, focusing on isotopic and organic geochemistry and astrobiology. This summer though, I'll be taking a break and relaxing at home!
What was your favorite class in EAPS and why? It's hard to choose, but my favorite EAPS class was probably 12.158, molecular biogeochemistry. I loved getting to take a deep dive into a new molecule every week and understand what it can tell us about life today and in the deep past! I also have to mention 12.115 (field geology) too though, because that class pushed me out of my comfort zone. It really forced me to really understand geology and be confident in my skills as a scientist, as well as providing me with fantastic bonding opportunities with other EAPS undergrads.
What pieces of wisdom can you share with incoming students? Be willing to go against the flow and find your niche! Finding your passion is the key to thriving at MIT. Don't be afraid to venture from what's normal in order to find that passion and let yourself try out new subjects and ideas, even if it's not something you ever considered before.
Quantification and Speculation for Biofilm Formation in Prochlorococcus
Vivian (Lin) Hou (advisor Prof. Michael Follow and Prof. Sallie W. Chisholm)
Research: I quantitively analyzed the aggregate formation across 9 strains of Prochlorococcus using self-written algorithm in Matlab. The cultures were grown in 5 different conditions-axenic controls, xenic with heterotrophs, heat-shock, 3 days of dark incubation, and addition of EDTA. Their growth and aggregate formations were tracked with a camera, and the images were later processed for analysis. The results confirmed aggregate formation as a phenotype in Prochlorococcus and the level of aggregate formations varied across different strains.
What's Next: Attending grad school, Biological oceanography, at UCSD in Andy Allen’s Lab.
What was your favorite class in EAPS and why? Introduction to Geology. I got to study rocks and drew maps. They were so cool!
What pieces of wisdom can you share with incoming students? Take some classes with a field-trip component. They will be your highlights of the semester.
Paleomagnetic Constraints on Assembly of the Superior Craton: Results from the 2.72-2.69 Ga Vermilion District of the Wawa Subprovince, MN
Zoe Levitt (advisors Prof. Roger Fu (Harvard) and Prof. Oliver Jagoutz)
What's next: A field trip with Oliver Jagoutz to the Himalayas, then time spent furthering my musical career.
You can read more about Zoe Levitt's time in EAPS and her songwriting career in an upcoming MIT News article
Evaluating the Time of Emergence of Heat Waves using Different Definitions
Christine Padalino (advisor Prof. Susan Solomon)
Research: My research investigates when heat waves will first start happening due to climate change in different regions. I use different climate model’s projected daily temperature data to estimate how frequently heat waves were occurring in the summers from 1900-1930 and then compare that frequency to another later thirty year window. One of the key points of my research is how a heat wave is defined. The first definition I look at is periods of five or more days that have temperatures higher than 5 degrees C above what is typical for that day for the period of 1850-1975 in that location. The second definition I use is periods of five of more days that have temperatures higher than 90% of that days’ previously estimated temperatures from 1850-1975 in that location. I also determine whether the patterns of emergence are related most to the amount of warming over 1900-2100, how variable a region’s daily temperature is, or the amount of warming relative to the variability.
What's Next:I will be continuing on in the MIT EAPS department as a 5th year master’s student with Prof. Mick Follows!
What was your favorite class in EAPS and why? One of my favorite EAPS classes I took was 12.385 (Science, Politics, and Environmental Policy). I really enjoyed being able to learn more about framing the science and work I am interested in for a larger audience, and specifically for policy.
What piece of wisdom can you share with incoming students? Do not forget to have fun! MIT offers so many interesting classes, research opportunities, and extracurriculars, but it is also just as important to find the time to spend time with friends and do the things that make you happy.
Analysis of Transient Fog Features on Titan
Elena Romashkova (advisor Dr. Jason Soderblom)
Research: For my thesis, I studied fogs on Saturn’s moon Titan! Titan is really interesting because it has a methane-based “water cycle,” with rivers, lakes, clouds, storms and more that look a lot like the ones we have on Earth. My work helps us understand how these fogs form. I put together a much more complete data set of these features than we had before by searching Cassini data, then explored connections between fogs and other factors like lake location and season. I found some cool patterns, like quite a few fogs that seem to trace locations of lakes.
What's Next:In the fall, I’ll be starting a job as an associate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. There, I’ll be working in the Oceanography section of the Climate and Global Dynamics Lab, helping develop analysis and visualization software for Earth system modeling.
What was your favorite EAPS class and why? My favorite EAPS class was 12.115, Field Geology, which I took this IAP. You get to travel to the Mojave Desert and spend three weeks outside mapping the local geology! As someone who got involved in the EAPS department mostly over the pandemic and missed out on a lot of the hands-on experiences, getting to see in person a lot of the things I’d only learned virtually was very exciting. It also made me value field work and the idea of studying something close to home a lot more, as someone who had done a lot of work in planetary science beforehand.
What piece of wisdom can you share with incoming students? It’s okay to keep exploring different fields until you find something that you find interesting and meaningful, even if that takes a long time! Coming into MIT, I thought I was totally set on studying astrophysics. Instead, I ended up taking a very winding path through different classes and research in the physics and EAPS departments. The place where I am now, with a thesis studying weather on Titan and future plans to study Earth climate, would be totally baffling to me as a freshman. But I’m really happy with where I am; it was really exciting to find something I hadn’t even considered before that I was passionate about. Skills carry over more than you’d think if you let yourself get out of your comfort zone and try new things!
Nonlinear Amplifications of Extreme Climate Carbon Cycle Events
Amanda Vanegas (advisor Prof. Daniel Rothman)
Research: The geological records of the carbon cycle present significant disruptions at intermittent times, which are often associated with events of abrupt climate change. These disruptions can be caused by volcanism, orbital parameters, chemical weathering, among other factors. Through this work, we studied time series analysis methods that allow us to identify common features between different carbon cycle disruptions. To better understand the mechanisms within the carbon cycle that amplify or buffer perturbations might allow us to gain insights into the evolution of human-driven climate change.
What's Next: I will be starting my PhD in Stanford at the Earth System Science department.
What was your favorite EAPS class and why? 12.349, Mechanics and Models of Global Carbon Cycle. I enjoyed this class because it allowed me to gain some important intuition into how the Earth works and exposed me to a variety of different topics that have inspired some of my current interests. I also really enjoyed the opportunity to do UROP's that allowed me to gain hands-on experience and learn skills inside and outside the EAPS department.
What piece of wisdom can you share with incoming students? Ask a lot of questions! Being surrounded by people as driven and motivated as MIT students and professors is a very special opportunity. Everyone has something unique and brilliant to share, you just got to ask.
Evaporative Controls on Convective Adjustment: A Satellite-Based Assessment of Convective Available Potential Energy (CAPE) Evolution During Surface Drydowns
Lily Zhang (advisor Prof. Dara Entekhabi)
Research: Changes in surface properties can influence weather and climate through interactions between the land and atmosphere. In my thesis, I use satellite observation of convective available potential energy (CAPE) over interstorm periods (drydowns), to explore the connection between evaporation and the energy budget of the atmosphere. We find that the complex surface physics during drydowns produce clear and distinct trends in CAPE. Our results, which are entirely rooted in observations and basic physical principles, could be an important benchmark for land-atmosphere coupling in climate models.
What's Next: In the fall, I'll be beginning a PhD in Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Washington. I plan to continue exploring my interest in land-atmosphere interactions with Professor David Battisti.
What was your favorite EAPS Class and Why? My favorite EAPS class was 12.315/815: Atmospheric Radiation and Convection. I really enjoyed how the class built up a complex picture of planetary climate from basic physical principles, and it helped me discover my interest in climate dynamics.
What piece of wisdom can you share with incoming students? I would tell incoming students that their most important resource when it comes to planning their classes is older students; their most important resource when it comes to career and research advice is faculty (e.g., their advisor or PI). EAPS has an amazing community for both, so definitely take advantage of it!
Story Image: Commencement 2018 on Killian Court (Credit: Jake Belcher); individual photos: courtesy of the students