2020 EAPS Senior Thesis Presentations

Lauren Hinkel | EAPS News
Friday, May 29, 2020

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.

Relationship Between West African Monsoon Precipitation Characteristics and Maize Yields Across Sub-Saharan West Africa
Janice Shiu (advisor Prof. Dara Entekhabi)

Research: I studied the relationship between maize yields and precipitation characteristics of the West African Monsoon with Professors Dara Entekhabi and Sarah Fletcher. Understanding agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa is important in the context of food security, climate change, and population growth. The region’s agriculture relies almost exclusively on rain, which provides a unique opportunity to look at how features of the monsoon, like its duration, rain variability, or rain totals, affect crop yields. 

My advisor was David McGee! He always encouraged me to pursue what truly interested me, which has led me to opportunities, experiences, and skills gained from all sorts of places!

What's Next: I will be working as a data analyst for Compass Lexecon.

What was your favorite class (in and outside EAPS) and why?: 1.092, Traveling Research Experience, because it was a great opportunity to do field research in Hawaii with a small group of great people! Not a class, but EAPS UROPS were my favorite because they were a hands-on experience that require skills inside and outside of the EAPS department. There is an abundance of interesting work done in the department that undergraduates from all across MIT should take advantage of!

What did you like most about your time at MIT? The sense of community and opportunity found in all places across campus.

What experience was the most memorable and why? Escaping Boston’s winter for Hawaii to do research, enjoy its beaches, and hang out with some amazing people.

If you could do it again, what would you do differently? Be more involved in the opportunities to travel with the EAPS department. People bring great insight into the trips, which can make for very unique experiences.

What pieces of wisdom can you share with incoming students? Don’t be afraid to try something new or unexpected!


Exploring the preservation of microbes and understanding their role in the fossil record
Kyle Morgenstein (advisor Prof. Tanja Bosak and Dr. Kelsey Moore)

Research: My research in the Bosak Lab focuses on the preservation and silicification of cyanobacteria. Cyanobacteria are some of the most ancient organisms, and are believed to be largely responsible for the oxygenation of the atmosphere and ocean. Understanding the conditions surrounding their preservation and fossilization can help us understand the environments in which they lived, and may help inform the search for life on other planets as well. 

I was advised by Professor Tanja Bosak and Dr. Kelsey Moore. The best advice I ever got was “get some sleep.”

What's Next: After working at NASA JPL this summer, I will begin an MS/PhD in robotics at UT Austin this fall. My research will focus on legged robotics for space exploration.

What was your favorite class (in and outside EAPS) and why?: My favorite EAPS classes were 12.117 (Field Geobiology) and 12.003 (Intro to Atmosphere, Ocean, and Climate Dynamics). The 12.117 field trip to Bermuda helped contextualize everything we learned in class, and was also a blast! 12.003 gives you the fundamentals of climate dynamics in a mathematically rigorous way, which is important to understanding climate change and helping fight misinformation. Outside of EAPS, my favorite class was 8.282 (Intro Astronomy/Astrophysics). The Professor, Max Tegmark, brings such infectious curiosity and passion to the class, it’s hard not to get excited!

What did you like most about your time at MIT? MIT is about people. 20 years from now I doubt I’ll remember all the equations I’ve learned, but I’ll remember the big conversations I had with my peers, imagining and inventing the future. On any given day you’ll have an equal opportunity of overhearing a conversation about football and quantum mechanics. It’s a special place. 

What experience was the most memorable and why? Ring delivery was likely the most memorable experience for me. It’s what made me feel most like an MIT student and the most part of the community. It seems like a silly thing, but it’s an incredible experience.

If you could do it again, what would you do differently? I would probably try to take more physics classes and project classes, and ideally would not conclude senior year with a global pandemic (if it was up to me, at least). 

What pieces of wisdom can you share with incoming students? Don’t hesitate to reach out to professors about their research! Doing UROPs is one of the best parts of your MIT education, and I learned a ton in all of mine.


Particle motion tracking through machine learning: an empirical study of grain-scale motion in bedload sediment transport
Matthew Rushlow (advisor Prof. Taylor Perron)

Research: For my thesis, I studied a few different aspects of sediment transport with the Perron Surfaces Group. More specifically, I was working on novel methods of automated motion tracking of hundreds of thousands of river grains along a bed as well as creating efficient yet accurate 3D models of those grains for use in DEM simulations.

My advisor was Taylor Perron, and he was great, not only with introducing me to grain motion research, but also in helping me get through some of the toughest times I had at MIT.

What's Next: After graduation I think I will be taking some time to help tie up some loose ends with my research, and then look to pursuing some field work.

What was your favorite class (in and outside EAPS) and why?: It’s difficult to pick just one, but one of my favorite class within EAPS was 12.115. I absolutely loved spending nearly a month in the field, trying to unravel the mysteries of mountains in the Mojave. Outside of EAPS, I had a great time with 21H in general, and 21H.358’s deep insights into colonial legacies across South Asia and Africa.

What did you like most about your time at MIT? The amount of fascinating and enjoyable courses I’ve been able to take at MIT has been great, as well as the lasting friendships and memories made.

What experience was the most memorable and why? Honestly my favorite experiences at MIT have been the countless trips in EAPS to geologically interesting places that I might not have otherwise gotten to see, from Yellowstone to the Mojave.

If you could do it again, what would you do differently? Given a second chance I probably would have declared EAPS sooner considering how much I ended up enjoying it!

What pieces of wisdom can you share with incoming students? The best piece of advice I can offer is that while handling everything that MIT can throw at you can be a struggle at times, the courses, experiences, and friendships made along the way make it all worth it.


Studying the atmosphere of HD189733 b with the Rossiter-McLaughlin Effect
Charlotte Minsky (advisor Prof. Richard Binzel)

Research: My work is on trying to use the Rossiter-McLaughlin effect to study the atmospheres of extrasolar planets from ground-based data, using HD 189733 b as a proof of concept.
Lab – not at MIT (Ray Jayawardhana’s group at Cornell, co-advisors for thesis are Andrew Ridden-Harper and Jake Turner). MIT advisor is Rick Binzel.

What's Next: 2020-2021: MPhil at University of Cambridge in History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine
2021-2026-ish: PhD at Harvard University School of Engineering and Applied Sciences/Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences


Tufa Based Reconstructions of Huasco Basin Lake Levels & Water Chemistry
Ruth Tweedy (advisor Prof. David McGee)

Research: For my thesis, I worked in the McGee Lab to study paleolake levels in the South 
American Altiplano. My supervisors were Professor David McGee and Dr. Christine Y. Chen. I used U/Th disequilibrium dating of lacustrine tufa carbonates to date the lake high stands of the Salar del Huasco, in order to better understand the intensity of the South American Summer Monsoon at the Southern end of the Titicaca-Uyuni Basin.

What's Next: After graduation, I’m taking a year out to live back home in Scotland and hopefully do a lot of hiking, along with working and/or volunteering somewhere. I’ll be starting my PhD in Earth Sciences at Columbia/LDEO in Fall 2021.


Characterization of Solar X-ray Response Data from the REXIS Instrument
Andrew Cummings (advisor Prof. Richard Binzel and Dr. Rebecca Masterson)

Research: The REgolith X-ray Imaging Spectrometer (REXIS) is a student-built instrument that was flown on NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Safety, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission. During the primary science observation phase, the REXIS Solar X-ray Monitor (SXM) experienced a lower than anticipated solar x-ray count rate. Solar x-ray count decreased most prominently in the low energy region of instrument detection, and made calibrating the REXIS main spectrometer difficult. A root cause investigation was conducted into the low x-ray count anomaly in the SXM, so as to make recommendations for hardware improvements and better facilitate future low-cost, high risk spaceflight instrumentation.

What's Next: I will be pursuing a PhD in Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT, and then serving as an Officer in the United States Marine Corps.

What was your favorite class (in and outside EAPS) and why?: 12.620 because it opened me up to the nuance of dynamical modeling. 

What did you like most about your time at MIT? Succeeding alongside my friends.

What experience was the most memorable and why? The Crosby Trip to Newfoundland because it introduced me to friends and role models that continue to make a positive difference in my life today. 

If you could do it again, what would you do differently? I wouldn’t save GIRs for my final semester.

What pieces of wisdom can you share with incoming students? Do what you love, and the rest will fall into place.


Determining Paleolake Sensitivity to Climate Variability in the Western United States Using GIS-modeling
AJ Iversen (advisor Prof. Richard Binzel)

Research: I modeled the hypsometry of ancient lake basins in the western US to examine how basin shape impacted paleolake response to long and short term changes in climate. I worked with Prof. David McGee and Christine Chen PhD '19.

What's Next: Taking a breather

What was your favorite class (in and outside EAPS) and why?: I really liked field work, so my favorite classes were 12.409 (hanging on the roof looking at stars), 12.117 (doing chemistry on the beaches of Bermuda), and my UROP (hunting for fossils around Death Valley).

What did you like most about your time at MIT? MIT students are industrious and clever, but more importantly tend to be very mischievous. There was rarely a dull moment when with other students.

What experience was the most memorable and why? Winning two football conference championships at MIT was definitely my most memorable experience.

If you could do it again, what would you do differently? I wish I had done MISTI for a summer or IAP. I was nervous to travel but there are a lot of opportunities to experience the world.

What pieces of wisdom can you share with incoming students? Anna’s Taqueria rarely charges for sour cream and guac even they’re supposed to. Ask for help and take things one step at a time. Besides that, EAPS students are generally shy and hard to come by, so make sure to put in the effort to meet everyone. 

Story Image: Commencement 2018 on Killian Court (Credit: Jake Belcher); individual photos: courtesy of the students

Special thanks to EAPS Lecturer Jane Connor from Writing Across the Curriculum, for her work supporting and coaching this year's graduating class with writing and effective presentation.

Links to Prior Years