2014 Senior Thesis Presentations

Helen Hill | EAPS News
Monday, May 19, 2014

Friday, May 16th, was EAPS' annual senior thesis presentation day. From asteroids to stromatolites, paleomagnetism to correcting GPS measurements, volcanic aerosols to air pollution, discover what EAPS class of 2014 has been working on.

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 ten students specializing in areas across the earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences.

Special thanks, as always, to Jane Connor, EAPS' Lecturer II from Writing Across the Curriculum, for her work supporting and coaching this year's graduating class. Connor, who provides one-on-one writing and effective presentation support to EAPS undergraduates as well as undergraduates in other courses, holds a BA in English from Swarthmore College, and an MA in Languages, Literature and Communication, with an emphasis on Communication Theory, from Columbia University. 

For her senior thesis, Effectiveness of microseismic monitoring for optimizing hydraulic fracturing in California, Ann Alampi worked with Senior Research Scientist and co-Director of the Earth Resources Laboratory, geophysicist Michael Fehler. This project analyzed the effect of the use of microseismic monitoring technology on the production volumes of companies that hydraulically fracture in California. Although hydrofracking for shale gas and tight oil have only received attention in the past five years, companies have been releasing hydrocarbons by fracturing rock with steam in California since the 1950s. This makes California an educational case study about geophysical technologies used for hydrofracking. The goal of microseismic monitoring is to enhance recovery of hydrocarbons. Alampi's study evaluated whether the companies that use microseismic monitoring achieve that goal better than their competitors. Next year Alampi is looking forward to moving to Houston, TX to be a consultant with Bain and Company. video



India and Asia are slamming together as we speak! So began Elizabeth Bailey's presentation of her thesis Testing Models of Ultra-Fast India-Asia Convergence: New Paleomagnetic Results from Ladakh, Western Himalaya in which she shared new evidence to test theories explaining the uniquely fast rate at which India and Eurasia have converged.  Having collected samples during fieldwork in the Himalayas last summer, Bailey carried out paleomagnetic analysis of rocks from the Khardung Volcanics (~67-52 Ma) in advisor Prof. Ben Weiss's Paleomagnetism Laboratory. In the fall, Bailey begins the PhD program in Planetary Science at Caltech. video


In Ice-rafted debris in the Southern Ocean: Potential uses and limitations of 230Th-normalized fluxes Jessica Fujimori (advisors Prof. David McGee, and Dr. Elizabeth L. Pierce, Wellesley College) reported analyzing two deep-sea sediment cores from the Scotia Sea, located northeast of the Antarctic Peninsula, for ice-rafted debris (IRD): the sediments scraped off the Antarctic continent and carried by icebergs into the open ocean. IRD can be used to help reconstruct glacial histories; at times when the ice sheet was disintegrating fastest, IRD fluxes will increase. Fujimori compared two methods of determining IRD fluxes, one using the inferred linear sedimentation rate of the core and the other normalized IRD fluxes using concentrations of the isotope 230Th. Fujimori was recently elected to membership in Phi Beta Kappa. This recognition is the highest that any MIT undergraduate can receive for their academic achievements. video


Working with advisor Susan Solomon, Jessica Haskins used the Specified Dynamics Whole Atmosphere Community Climate Model (SD-WACCM) in her thesis, The effects of volcanic aerosols on mid-latitude ozone recovery to investigate the impact that recent small volcanic eruptions from 2008-2012 have played on the recovery of stratospheric ozone. The model used the Chemistry Climate Model Initiative (CCMI) aerosol data set as input for stratospheric surface area densities in SD-WACCM. Through comparisons with in-situ measurements of aerosols made at Laramie, Wyoming, Haskins found that in the lower stratosphere, the CCMI aerosol data set underestimates the true surface area density after the volcanic eruptions between 2008-2012 by a factor of 2-6. A thorough investigation of the nonlinear chemistry leading to ozone loss in the stratosphere indicated that the underestimations of surface area density in the CCMI aerosol data set caused the model predicted ozone loss to be underestimated as well. Haskins used the scaling factor by which the CCMI aerosol data set was underestimated to estimate the true effect the recent volcanic eruptions on stratospheric ozone. Haskins found that the volcanoes between 2008-2012 may have caused a significant decrease in the ozone column over northern mid-latitudes highlighting the importance of even small variations of surface area density on the ozone column. Originally from Forsyth, Georgia, Haskins will spend the summer doing research on volcanic aerosols at the National Swiss Institute of Technology (ETH) before beginning a Ph'D program in Atmospheric Science at the University of Washington in the fall. Haskins was a 2014 recipient of an American Meteorological Society Graduate Fellowship as well as an Achievement Reward for Collegiate Scientists. video



Working with advisor Prof. Saul A. Rappaport, Matthew Joss reported on his study Rapidly Rotating K Stars and the Detection of Relatively Young Hierarchical K Star Systems describing his search through the Kepler satellite data set for K dwarf stars that are rapidly rotating with rotational periods of 2 days or less. Focusing his search on relatively young binaries, triples, and higher order hierarchical stellar systems within the Kepler data, Joss shared his findings and provided United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) imaging evidence of multiplicity for several stellar systems. In the fall Joss plans to pursue a Masters degree in EAPS, shifting his emphasis to Geobiology/Astrobiology.


Rachel Keeler (advisors Prof. Colette Heald and Ms. Marguerite Nyhan) presented her thesis A neural network model of Manhattan air pollution at high spatial resolution for which she had created a neural network model to predict the concentrations of five air pollutants at every center-cell-point in a 250x250m grid laid over Manhattan. In addition to standard meteorological inputs, data describing the distance and time traveled by taxis within each grid cell was used to represent traffic flow. Keeler is the recipient of the 2014 MIT Laya W. Wiesner Award.



In her thesis, Analysis of atmospheric delays and asymmetric positioning errors in the Global Positioning System, Kathryn Materna (advisor Prof. Tom Herring) reported her search to identify the cause of small, persistent positioning errors at GPS stations in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and other mountainous regions of the United States.  The end goal of the research was to correct the positioning errors and improve the accuracy of GPS measurements in mountainous regions. The observed errors are notable because they are 10-20 millimeters in magnitude (which is large for this type of GPS measurement) and they are oriented in the same direction each time. Understanding that the problem was likely to be related to atmospheric delay estimation, Materna compared atmospheric data from a number of different sources, including weather balloons, numerical weather models, and satellite images in order to identify local atmospheric conditions on days when outliers occur. Of particular interest was the possibility that atmospheric dynamics related to the topography, such as lee waves, might be the cause of the positioning errors. Materna begins Graduate School in the geophysics PhD program at UC Berkeley in fall 2014. She is the recipient of the 2014 EAPS W.O Crosby Award for Sustained Excellence. video


For her thesis Complex lipids in microbial mats and stromatolites of Hamelin Pool, Shark Bay, Australia Elise Myers (advisor Prof. Roger Summons) extracted and analyzed lipids from freeze-dried non-lithified smooth, pustular, and colloform microbial mats, as well as from smooth and colloform stromatolites, from Hamelin Pool, Shark Bay, Australia. Stromatolites, columnar, lithified rock-like structures, are potentially some of the oldest microbially mediated fossils visible in the rock record. The stromatolites of Shark Bay are biogenic, forming from microbial mats, so creating comprehensive lipid biomarker profiles of these microbialites allows for an understanding of both the current microbes and ancient microbial community diversities. This then means that studying these microbial mats and stromatolites provides a look into some of the earliest forms of life of Earth. Intact polar lipids, glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraethers, and bacteriohopanepolyols were analyzed via liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) coupled to a quadroole time-of-flight (QTOF) mass spectrometer, while the previously studies fatty acids (Allen et al. 2010) were analyzed using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) to prove consistent signatures. From the various lipid profiles, sulfate-reducing bacteria and anoxygenic phototrophic microbes, and ammonium oxidizing microbes can be inferred. Additionally, this research seems to have shown the presence of the rare 3-Methylhopanoids in a significant portion of the samples, which could be used later to add to the characterization of this molecule. While the lipid profiles for all sediment types were similar, there were some differences that are likely attributable to morphological variation. Myers is "ecstatic" to be starting her PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University in the upcoming year where she plans to study microbiology with a particular focus in tropical marine community ecology and the links between environmental and human health. Myers was the recipient of a 2014 MIT Ronald E. McNair Scholarship Award. video


Climatic Influences on Hillslope Soil Transport Efficiency Naomi D. Schurr (advisors Prof. Taylor Perron and Mr. Paul Richardson) This work presents new estimates of the soil transport coefficient D and compares them, along with a compilation previously published estimates of D, against three climate proxies (mean annual precipitation, aridity index, and mean annual temperature) with the goal of identifying climatic influences on soil transport efficiency. Schurr will begin graduate school studying autonomy / robotics in Course 16 at MIT in the fall. She was recently elected to membership in Phi Beta Kappa. This recognition is the highest that any MIT undergraduate can receive for their academic achievements.


For Effects of Earth Encounters on the Physical Properties of Near-Earth Objects Hosea Siu (advisors Prof. Richard  Binzel, and Dr. Nicholas Moskovitz, Lowell Observatory) developed an open-source light-curve fitting routine for use with the Mission Accessible Near-Earth Object Survey (MANOS) to help automate the characterization of asteroid rotations and shapes. The routine is currently being used with MANOS. Separately, previous light-curve characterizations were used to examine the effects of Earth encounters on near-Earth objects (NEOs). It was found that the population of objects that were likely to have passed closer than one lunar distance from the Earth had significantly more variability in their rotational frequency distributions than other NEOs. Siu returns to EAPS in the fall to study for a 5th year masters, before beginning in the PhD program in AeroAstro. video

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