2021 - Meet the EAPS Seniors

Lauren Hinkel | EAPS News
Monday, May 17, 2021

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.

Sarah Weidman

Understanding changes in precipitation with climate change over wet and dry land
Sarah Weidman (advisor: Prof. Paul O'Gorman)

Research: This project uses global climate model output to attempt to understand the pattern of changes in precipitation we may see over land with increased temperatures. It focuses on the differences between wet and dry tropical land to understand the physical mechanisms behind these changes.

What's Next? I will start a PhD in atmospheric dynamics at Harvard EPS next fall.

What was the best piece of advice you received from your advisor? My thesis advisor was Paul O'Gorman. One piece of problem-solving advice (I don't know if it was the best advice yet -- only time will tell) is to start to solve a problem in a quick, rough way, just to see if your method will work. If it looks promising, you can try it again slowly and carefully, but if it has no chance of working, you didn't waste that much effort.

What was your favorite class (in and outside EAPS) and why?: I liked many of my EAPS classes, but 12.310 (An Introduction to Weather Forecasting) was my first EAPS class, so it has a special place in my heart. It's an IAP class, so it's short and sweet, but I think it's given me the best intuitive understanding of a subject that is of use and relevance to the people around me. I love it when people ask me why there's snow in April and I have a good answer for them!

What pieces of wisdom can you share with incoming students? Take advantage of all the passion and excitement of the people around you. You can learn so much and make incredible memories with all the fascinating people at MIT -- plus, you never know when a global pandemic will come through and take it away...

Katherine Hahn

Investigation of Interstellar Object Flux Through the Solar System
Katherine Hahn (advisor: Prof. Benjamin Weiss)

Research: I double majored in Chemical-Biological Engineering and EAPS. 

I worked under Dr. Benjamin Weiss and Dr. Richard Linares (AeroAstro) to calculate an updated flux for interstellar objects (ISOs) through the Solar System. This flux is important in designing future aerospace engineering missions as well as fitting the spacecraft with appropriate sensors to better understand ISOs. By better understanding ISOs, we can better understand large planetary science topics such as planetary formation processes or panspermia. 

What's Next? I will be working at Lincoln Lab as an Assistant Staff Biologist in the Biotechnology and Human Systems division. 

What was your favorite class (in and outside EAPS) and why? My favorite EAPS class was 12.425 (Extrasolar Planets: Physics and Detection Techniques) taught by Dr. Sara Seager. I really enjoyed this class because we got to learn a lot about exoplanet detection and characterization which is the forefront of a lot of research at the moment. Outside of EAPS, my favorite class was 10.37 (Chemical Kinetics and Reactors). I really liked learning about the basics of reactor design while delving more into kinetics- one of my favorite academic topics. 

What did you like most about your time at MIT? During my time at MIT, I really liked meeting new people and exploring new things. Each semester, I challenged myself to do something new whether it was try a new club, take classes in a different department, or pick up a new hobby. Each of these things led me to meeting new people and helping make my MIT experience more great. 

What experience was the most memorable and why? I think this is a really common answer for the 2021’s, but my most memorable experience was going to MIT virtually (aside from 1-2 classes) for 1.5 years is definitely memorable and something I will carry with me forever.

If you could do it again, what would you do differently? I think I would try to explore more fields sooner. I didn’t discover my passion for EAPS until spring of my Junior year, and I would take more physics classes.

What pieces of wisdom can you share with incoming students? Take every opportunity you can to try something new and push yourself. Embrace the MIT experience and try to soak it in while you can because even though your time at MIT is extremely hard - it is really short and ultimately, life-changing.

Sabrina Khan

Characterization of clasts in the Glen Torridon region of Gale crater observed by the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Rover
Sabrina Khan (advisor: Prof. Kristin Bergmann)

Research: I studied the shape, distribution and composition of clasts (granules, pebbles, cobbles) at a site in Gale crater, Mars called Glen Torridon using data captured by the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover. My goal was to understand how the clasts were formed and modified. I did most of my research at NASA JPL with Dr. Kathryn Stack Morgan and finished my analysis/wrote my thesis under the supervision of Prof. Kristin Bergmann here at MIT. 

What's Next? Travelling and potentially working with Prof. Bergmann this summer!

What was your favorite class (in and outside EAPS) and why? 12.001 was the most transformative class for me. I had been studying aerospace engineering for most of my undergraduate career because I was passionate about space exploration. I thought being in the space sector meant designing rovers, but I hadn’t considered what rovers actually did when they landed on another planet – geology! 12.001 allowed me to understand the purpose of my engineering work, and it was the springboard for me into planetary geology. 

What pieces of wisdom can you share with incoming students? Take some time in your first two years to explore what the institute has to offer. There are so many classes, clubs, and research projects to get involved in (including in humanities!) that could help you find a new passion, or at the very least round out your understanding of something you’re already excited about. Dedicate that time to getting breadth, and use your remaining time here to gain depth. 

Megan Guenther

The Influence of Variable Oxygen Fugacity on the Source Depths for Lunar High-Titanium Ultramafic Glasses 
Megan Guenther (advisor: Prof. Tim Grove)

Research: I worked in the Experimental Petrology lab with Professor Tim Grove and Stephanie Krein. We studied the high-Titanium lunar glasses, which are found in lunar soil samples collected from the Apollo missions.  They formed in explosive “fire-fountain” eruptions early in the Moon’s history. We performed high-temperature, high-pressure experiments on these compositions to attempt to replicate the conditions in the lunar interior and determine where these magmas originated. However, we also needed to consider the oxidation state of their source regions, so we investigated the relationship between titanium content and oxygen fugacity to better constrain their depths of origin. Bigger picture, our results have implications for understanding early planetary formation and evolution. 

What's Next? I’ll be sticking around the EAPS department and the Grove lab for one more year to complete a 5th-year Masters degree. 

What was the best piece of advice you received from your advisor? My advisor is Tim Grove. I have been working with since the summer of 2018, so I have received a lot of great advice from him since then. One valuable piece of advice that Tim has given me and many other students that he advises is to “just go for it”. If you are passionate about something, go do it, don’t worry about what other people think is best for you or what makes the most sense. You will be a lot more successful at something you care about. 

What was your favorite class (in and outside EAPS) and why? My favorite class is 12.001, Introduction to Geology. This class will always have a special place in my heart because I have been a student in it and I have been a TA for it twice (and will be for the third time in the fall of 2021!). I think it’s a great overview of many topics in Earth Science, and it has some fun labs and great professors. It also includes a two-day camping trip to Eastern NY/Western MA which is always a great experience. I’ve loved learning and sharing my knowledge in this class over the past 3 years. 

What did you like most about your time at MIT? I’ve enjoyed being a part of so many different social, student, and research groups during my time here. The opportunities to meet awesome people and do cool things are endless! During my four years, I have been a part of the MIT Women’s Tennis Team, MIT EMS, PLEASURE @ MIT, MIT German House, the Pegis/Mass Delta Fraternity, the MIT Experimental Petrology Lab, the EAPS undergraduate group, the Figure Skating Club, and probably even more groups that I am forgetting! I have had so many amazing experiences through these groups, and I have grown a lot in my time here by branching out. 

What experience was the most memorable and why? It’s so hard to choose, so I’ll pick two! One was giving an oral presentation at the 2019 Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston, TX. I was a sophomore at the time and had never presented to such a large group, but I got over the nerves and it ended up being such a valuable and confidence-building experience. My other memorable experience was doing field work in Ladakh, India with Craig Martin and Prof. Oli Jagoutz. Spending six weeks in such a beautiful and geologically interesting place is something I will always cherish. I learned so much and had an amazing time. 

If you could do it again, what would you do differently? I’m pretty happy with my path through MIT, but one thing I would do differently is ditch the imposter syndrome earlier.  There were a few times I avoided taking hard but interesting classes because I assumed I would fail, and I wish I had just gone for it. Also, if I could go back, I would NOT take night classes. Never a good idea, at least in my experience. 

What pieces of wisdom can you share with incoming students? Do your best not to neglect the non-academic aspects of your life.  Yes, you are at MIT to go to school, but there are so many other important things that will keep you happy and healthy.  When you look back at your time at MIT (and it will go by FAST), you probably won’t be thinking about the classes you took, but rather the friends you made and the experiences you had.  On that note, also remember that you are never alone.  You will struggle, but never think that you are the only one going through something or that you can’t reach out for help. You got this, and you rock!

Sheila Baber

The Impact of Radiometric Calibration Error on Earth Observation-supported Decision Making
Sheila Baber (advisor: Prof. Dr. Afreen Siddiqi, Prof. Olivier de Weck, Prof. Rick Binzel)

Research: I worked with Dr. Afreen Siddiqi and Prof. Olivier de Weck at the Engineering Systems Lab on looking at satellite radiometric calibration error. Prof. Rick Binzel also served as an advisor. The aim of the project was to look at the impact of calibration error of satellite sensors on downstream applications, especially in decision making areas. I looked into the data value chain from satellite image acquisition, to calibration, with focus on two areas: crop cover classification and harmful algal bloom detection. This project is motivated by the explosion of available sensors that are in orbit right now, and a need to assess their accuracy and impact on the science that could come out of them. 

What's Next? After graduation I am taking a gap year in Korea (MISTI) to work with Satrec Initiative, to design satellite missions. Post-gap year, I am intending to work on my PhD under Dr. Inbal Becker Reshef, who leads the NASA Harvest Consortium at the University of Maryland. 

What was the best piece of advice you received from your advisor? Dr. Afreen Siddiqi was my main advisor, and her support has been incredibly helpful for my progress on this thesis. One of her tips is to step back and look at the whole system—to make system diagrams of the processes and decisions made. That way, it is easier to see (especially when things go wrong as they invariably do) the target areas to work on. 

What was your favorite class (in and outside EAPS) and why? In EAPS—12.410 (Hot chocolate and tea with Amanda Bosh by a huge telescope on a cold 1 am). Outside EAPS—16.89 (it is not everyday that one gets to fly toy satellites attached to weather balloons from Briggs Field--and then watch TAs freak out as the balloon escapes towards Logan Airport).

What did you like most about your time at MIT? For me, it was the chance to watch people grow these past four years. Everyone—and I mean everyone—is at MIT for a reason, and I have had the incredible opportunity to watch my peers do crazy things I never would have thought of. 

What experience was the most memorable and why? The two IAPs I spent in Korea teaching North Korean refugee students through MISTI will stay with me for a long time. I am grateful for what they shared, and in the end feel that I was the one taught. Looking forward to the chance to connect with them this summer.

If you could do it again, what would you do differently? For the thesis---I would have sent more emails asking questions, instead of struggling alone on broken code for hours, or being frustrated about information I just couldn’t find on journals. For MIT—I wish I had been less focused on academics and pursued research and extra-curriculars more. 

What pieces of wisdom can you share with incoming students? For MIT— Don’t hesitate to try out new opportunities, especially those that you might feel you don’t yet have the background. The point of this place is to learn, and everyone starts from square. For EAPS—learn to code. At some point, you will have to code (Coming from someone who learned to code Junior spring through JLab).

Azzo Séguin

Competition among simulated plant species in a toy local vegetation model

Azzo Séguin (advisor: Prof. Mick Follows and Shariann Lewitt.)

Research: I worked with Mick Follows on a toy model for growth of and competition between terrestrial plants. I double majored in Comparative Media Studies/Writing (21W) and EAPS.

What's Next? I will be doing lab work in ecology.

Julia Clarke

Constructing a High-Resolution Record of Silurian Paleoclimate Using Carbonate Oxygen Isotopes
Julia Clarke (advisor: Prof. Kristin Bergmann)

Research: My research in the Bergmann Lab focuses on further improving our record of Paleozoic climate, particularly during the Silurian Period. A goal of my research is to determine if bulk carbonate oxygen isotope data can be used as a climate proxy along with other current methods, in order to produce a more high-resolution climate record than currently available.

What's Next? Taking some time to relax, spend time with family, and do a lot of hiking and camping

What was the best piece of advice you received from your advisor? I received a lot of advice from her on the scientific writing process, as well as life after graduation.

What was your favorite class (in and outside EAPS) and why? Within EAPS, my favorite classes were 12.115, 12.108, and 12.109. I greatly enjoyed spending a month in the field in 12.115, and the trip was a rewarding experience both in learning and the friendships made. Outside of EAPS I enjoyed 21H.227 (Constitutional Law in US History) and 7.33 (Evolutionary Biology).

What did you like most about your time at MIT? What I love most about MIT is the people. I have found a home within so many different communities on campus – through EAPS, activities, and my dorm. What I definitely will miss the most is my hall and friends in East Campus. There is never a dull moment with them, and while I might forget the knowledge gained in classes, I will never forget the memories we have shared.

What experience was the most memorable and why? Field camp was by far the most memorable experience. It was great to be able to spend a month in nature enjoying the beautiful scenery of the Mojave. We had a lot of fun around camp and on day trips as well, and I grew my friendships with many of the EAPS undergrads while on the trip.

If you could do it again, what would you do differently? I would have gotten involved with research in EAPS earlier. 

What pieces of wisdom can you share with incoming students? Don’t be afraid to try new things or take classes you find interesting because they’re unusual. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help, and reach out to Professors, upperclassmen, or S^3 when you need it.

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.

Prior Years: 202020192018201720162015201420132012

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