Meet Our Past Interns - 2020

  • Biodiversity and Conservation
  • Bruce, Janaya ’21

    Molecular Biology
    PROJECT

    Zooxanthellae Community Composition in Hawaiian Coral Reefs

    ORGANIZATION / LOCATION

    Gates Coral Lab, Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology

    MENTOR(S)

    Robert Toonen, Professor, Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology, University of Hawai‘i at Manoa; Mariana Rocha de Souza, Ph.D. candidate, Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology, University of Hawai‘i at Manoa

    Certificate(s): Environmental Studies

    My goal was to determine if environmental conditions influence the composition of the symbiotic single-celled plankton known as Zooxanthellae in two species of coral. My internship focused on using bioinformatics to analyze NextGen DNA sequences and determine the species of Zooxanthellae present in each of the coral samples. I used various bioinformatics software — in addition to creating my own programs — designed to isolate characteristic regions of DNA from the Zooxanthellae genome and compare them to existing databases. The results showed differences in Zooxanthellae community composition based on coral species and the depth of collection, but only partial differences based on location. These results provide insight into the susceptibility of certain coral reefs to climate change and warming ocean temperatures because different Zooxanthellae species can provide coral with greater resilience against temperature fluctuations. This internship helped me develop a strong knowledge of computer programming and bioinformatics, as well as understand the complexities of marine conservation. I am continuing to work with the Gates Coral Lab for my senior thesis. I also realized my interest in a conservation-based career, and I plan on pursuing a graduate degree in the field of marine conservation.

     

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  • Cooke, Eve ’22

    Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
    PROJECT

    Impact of Grazing Regimes on Rangeland Quality and Wildlife and Livestock Use

    ORGANIZATION / LOCATION

    Rubenstein Group, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University; Mpala Research Centre

    MENTOR(S)

    Daniel Rubenstein, Class of 1877 Professor of Zoology, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; Andrew Gersick, Associate Research Scholar, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

    I studied the effects of cattle grazing in Kenya on the ranging patterns of the endangered Grévy’s zebra. At the Mpala Research Centre in Kenya, wild herbivores including Grévy’s zebras graze in grasslands alongside cattle. We hypothesized that if cattle stimulate rangeland, Grévy’s zebras would move toward cattle-grazing areas, and if cattle damaged the rangeland, Grévy’s zebras would avoid those areas. I filtered and submitted photographs and GPS locations of Grévy’s zebras taken by Mpala field researchers to Wildbook, an artificial intelligence software that identifies animals by their distinctive markings. The unique pattern of a zebra’s stripes functions like a “barcode” for identifying individuals. Working with postdoctoral fellow Andrew Gersick, I helped troubleshoot the software, create a user’s manual for inputting field data, and I compiled spreadsheet templates to assist with data entry. By the end of my internship, I identified 140 unique Grévy’s zebras. Time constraints prevented us from drawing a definitive conclusion on the interaction between cattle and Grévy’s zebras, but this internship confirmed my desire to study the interaction between humans, livestock and wildlife in order to sustain ecosystems.

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  • Dalehite, Willow ’22

    Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
    PROJECT

    Nestling Feeding Behavior and Adult Interactions in a Cooperatively Breeding Bird

    ORGANIZATION / LOCATION

    Riehl Lab, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University

    MENTOR(S)

    Christina Riehl, Assistant Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; Amanda Savagian, Ph.D. candidate, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

    I studied nestling provisioning behavior in a population of greater anis in Panama. These birds are unique for being cooperative breeders, meaning that two or more breeding pairs lay their eggs in the same nest and jointly care for their offspring. My research aimed to help better understand the dynamics of this breeding system and the factors that might influence those dynamics. I watched nest-camera footage of adults feeding nestlings and collected data on prey allocation between nestlings, nestling begging behavior, and instances of adult conflict (when multiple adults handle a single prey item during a feeding event). I designed a project for which I investigated the factors that might lead to adult conflict, as well as the effects this behavior might have on prey allocation and provisioning rates. I learned a lot about breeding behavior in greater anis, as well as how to develop effective questions, hypotheses and data collection methods. I gained a lot of insight into academic ecological research from the great experience I had, and I hope to continue to study questions in behavioral ecology in the future.

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  • Duggal, Keenan ’23

    Molecular Biology
    Keenan Duggal 2020
    PROJECT

    Go to the Ant Thou Sluggard, Consider Her Ways Be Wise: Buffelgrass Seed Preferences, Predation and Dispersal in the Kenya Home Range by Messor Harvester Ants

    ORGANIZATION / LOCATION

    Mpala Research Centre

    MENTOR(S)

    Dino Martins, Executive Director, Mpala Research Centre; Ivy Ng’iru, Scientific Researcher, Mpala Research Centre

    I worked to further our understanding of harvester ant ecology with a particular focus on the ants’ preferences for the seeds of different grass species. Ideally, the data we collected will help determine whether harvester ants situationally help or hinder buffelgrass, a dry perennial grass that is an invasive species in the Southwestern United States. We designed a series of experiments that tested for preferential selection in different seed groupings. For each experiment, the field team took site pictures at multiple time points and sent them to me to analyze remotely. I later organized the data into charts and performed an ANOVA statistical significance test, which concluded that one or more of the seeds were being selected at a higher rate. More data will be needed to ultimately answer the buffelgrass question. In addition to vastly increasing my knowledge of harvester ants, this experience taught me valuable lessons in organization, data collection and patience. Most importantly, I experienced the value and meaningfulness that field research can have.

  • Kummel, Misha ’22

    Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
    PROJECT

    Climate Change, Plant-Pollinator Interactions and Hummingbird Color Vision in the Rocky Mountains

    ORGANIZATION / LOCATION

    Stoddard Lab, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University

    MENTOR(S)

    Mary Caswell Stoddard, Assistant Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

    I studied broad-tailed hummingbird behavior using data collected at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL). The project’s overarching goal is to better understand hummingbird pollination behavior and how it is affected by climate-driven changes in flower phenology. This summer, our team sought a clearer picture of which flowers hummingbirds visit during the season. I looked through thousands of camera-trap photographs to extract photos of hummingbirds visiting flowers. This allowed the team to determine hummingbird visitation rates at various flower species. I also carried out a thresholding analysis, which will allow the team to reduce the number of photographs that have to be manually inspected for data processing and analyses. Finally, I worked with another researcher at RMBL on a collaborative project for the team. Overall, I learned a lot about hummingbird behavior and flower phenology, gained valuable new data processing/analysis skills, and really connected with the members of my research group. This experience has inspired me to continue my current academic path and provided me with an invaluable mindset and skills for my independent work and beyond.

    * This internship is connected to the HMEI Climate and Energy Grand Challenges project, “Investigating the Effects of Climate Change on Hummingbird Sensory Landscapes.”

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  • Liebich, Maggie ’23

    Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
    PROJECT

    Impact of Grazing Regimes on Rangeland Quality and Wildlife and Livestock Use

    ORGANIZATION / LOCATION

    Rubenstein Group, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University; Mpala Research Centre

    MENTOR(S)

    Daniel Rubenstein, Class of 1877 Professor of Zoology, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; Andrew Gersick, Associate Research Scholar, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

    I studied the responses of Grévy’s and plains zebras to different cattle grazing patterns at the Mpala Research Centre in Laikipia County, Kenya, where pastoralism is an important part of the economy. Understanding the impacts of cattle on wildlife is necessary for sustainable development and the coexistence of humans and wildlife. Using the mapping software QGIS, I modeled the movement of cattle, plains zebras and Grévy’s zebras. The animal data was recorded by researchers in Kenya and logged in a program called Wildbook, which tracks repeated sightings of individual zebras. I focused on the impact of grazing on vegetation quality using the normalized difference vegetation index, which allowed me to understand how vegetation changed and recovered in response to cattle movement. I gained a lot of valuable experience in using QGIS and I enjoyed being able to work with Professor Rubenstein on studying zebra movement. Through this internship, I learned how rewarding it is to focus on and understand a specific ecological concept. I plan to continue working with Professor Rubenstein on these projects and study sustainable agriculture further.

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  • Logan-Sankey, Fiona ’23

    Chemical and Biological Engineering
    PROJECT

    Impact of Grazing Regimes on Rangeland Quality and Wildlife and Livestock Use

    ORGANIZATION / LOCATION

    Rubenstein Group, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University; Mpala Research Centre

    MENTOR(S)

    Daniel Rubenstein, Class of 1877 Professor of Zoology, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; Andrew Gersick, Associate Research Scholar, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

    I interned for a project based at Mpala Research Centre in Kenya that examined how the introduction of cattle onto a landscape impacted the movements of plains and Grévy’s zebras. I analyzed photographs of zebras taken in the field and helped develop a system for efficiently uploading and processing them in Wildbook, our stripe-recognition software platform. I also worked with geographic information systems to plot the locations of the zebras and cattle in our experiment and determine whether the zebras were more or less likely to be observed in areas grazed by cattle. This internship was deeply rewarding. It provided me the opportunity to learn about rangeland health, as well as to develop a deeper understanding of the many elements that go into research and development. This experience has motivated me to learn more about sustainable development and taught me to be more mindful of how scientists can help local communities be better stewards of our natural environment. I hope to carry these lessons forward in my research and independent work.

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  • McLaughlin, Katie ’23

    Computer Science
    PROJECT

    Responses of Corals to Temperature Changes That Reflect the Large Seasonal Temperature Range of Bermuda (20-28ºC)

    ORGANIZATION / LOCATION

    Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS)

    MENTOR(S)

    Yvonne Sawall, Assistant Scientist, BIOS

    I investigated how two coral species common to Bermuda adjust to naturally occurring temperature fluctuations. It is crucial to understand the mechanisms and capacities of physiological adjustment to gain insight into the ability of organisms to cope with climate change. I analyzed data from a temperature-manipulation experiment and identified patterns on thermal adjustments. I wrote Python scripts to extract, perform calculations on, and graph large volumes of data. I then analyzed trends in metabolic rates, the density of Zooxanthellae (photosynthetic symbiotic algae), pigment concentrations, and biomass over a temperature-reduction and acclimatization period. We are finalizing a paper for submission to a peer-reviewed journal that summarizes our questions and findings. This opportunity allowed me to further build my experience with popular tools used by data scientists and other professionals in my major and to learn more about coral biology. My internship also encouraged me to further explore the application of computer science and technology to environmental issues.

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  • Reeves, Camille ’23

    Astrophysics
    PROJECT

    Teaching Assistant for Conservation Clubs

    ORGANIZATION / LOCATION

    Rubenstein Group, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University; Mpala Research Centre

    MENTOR(S)

    Daniel Rubenstein, Class of 1877 Professor of Zoology, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

    The Northern Kenya Conservation Clubs (NKCC) work in conjunction with the Mpala Research Centre to teach primary and secondary students about their natural environment through experiential learning. Though COVID-19 changed our work, we provided students with engaging content that can be used virtually or in-person for years to come. Our work included creating the Reading Corner, a collection of storytime-style videos featuring books about the natural environment, as well as creating lesson plans concerning various environmental topics to be used once in-person classes can safely resume. Because I was working with NKCC remotely and with limited resources, I was able to refine my skills in preparedness and resourcefulness. The most exciting result of our work was being told that our Reading Corner videos would be featured on Kenyan national television — which is being used for remote teaching during the pandemic — as supplemental content between lessons. Working with NKCC has cemented my lifelong love for teaching and education, and it has encouraged me to look further into Princeton’s Program in Teacher Preparation.

  • Remez, Elena ’23

    School of Public and International Affairs
    Elena Remez
    PROJECT

    Teaching Assistant for Conservation Clubs

    ORGANIZATION / LOCATION

    Rubenstein Group, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University; Mpala Research Centre

    MENTOR(S)

    Daniel Rubenstein, Class of 1877 Professor of Zoology, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

    Certificate(s): Environmental Studies, Gender and Sexuality Studies

    The Northern Kenya Conservation Clubs (NKCC) teach children about the environment and their responsibility to take care of nature. Because the program was moved online, we focused on developing a virtual “library” of stories read aloud by me, my fellow intern, Camille Reeves, and our adviser. For the majority of the summer, I worked to develop a template for the videos, including a small animation of the NKCC logo. Next, I worked on editing the recorded videos and adding comprehension questions that linked back to the NKCC curriculum. Working with the NKCC increased my video production skills and general knowledge of Kenya. We got to listen to local community leaders speak daily about the research and programs they have developed. It was amazing to hear research from such a different environment than Princeton. Prior to starting this internship, I wanted to pursue a certificate in gender and sexuality studies. After this experience, I have realized that I want to make sure my gender and sexuality classes are not primarily American-focused, and that I obtain a greater worldview of gender and sexuality.

  • Reynolds, Hannah ’22

    Anthropology
    PROJECT

    Indigenous Language, Culture and Land Use in Southeast Alaska: Rethinking Environmental Justice in America’s Climate Forest

    ORGANIZATION / LOCATION

    HMEI Environmental Scholars Program, Princeton University

    MENTOR(S)

    Christiane Fellbaum, Lecturer with the Rank of Professor in the Council of the Humanities, the Program in Linguistics, and Computer Science

    Certificate(s): Environmental Studies

    I studied the connections between Indigenous language, culture and land use in Southeast Alaska, primarily by conducting surveys and interviews in the region. I also engaged in participant observation by partaking in traditional Alaska Native celebrations and language classes, as well as working with local conservation groups in lobbying for the protection of Tongass National Forest. The goal of this project was to rethink how environmental justice efforts can be tailored to fit the specific needs of Alaska Native communities that have lived and depended on the land for as long as 10,000 years, rather than simply focusing on conservation. Throughout this project, I gained a lot of useful skills in lobbying and writing op-eds, as well as in conducting original research in a virtual setting. Because I am interested in working in environmental policy after graduation, one highlight of my summer was speaking with two members of the U.S. House of Representatives about the issues I studied. I loved the chance to connect with people and hear their stories, and I hope to maintain these relationships in the future.

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  • Rodriguez, Jamie ’23

    School of Public and International Affairs
    PROJECT

    Wild About Wild Horses: What Does the Public Know and How Does It Know It?

    ORGANIZATION / LOCATION

    Rubenstein Group, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University

    MENTOR(S)

    Daniel Rubenstein, Class of 1877 Professor of Zoology, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

    I studied how visitors to North Carolina’s Shackleford Banks learn about the island’s wild horse population. The horses have inhabited the island for centuries and are protected and managed by the U.S. National Park Service. Though the Park Service educates visitors about the horses through pamphlets, exhibits and tours, we wanted to quantify the educational value of having firsthand encounters with the animals. With the assistance of Professor Rubenstein, I helped design and administer a survey that measured the educational outcomes of visitors’ experiences with the Shackleford horses. My work consisted of creating survey questions that minimize bias, developing methods of delivery that mitigate viral transmission, and soliciting responses in the field. My experiences exposed me to a unique intersection of social science and ecology, prompting my interest in the planning and design of public spaces.

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  • Singhal, Nishant ’23

    Operations Research and Financial Engineering
    Nishant Singhal_2020
    PROJECT

    Reconstructing Earth’s First Reefs and Their Impacts on the Cambrian Explosion

    ORGANIZATION / LOCATION

    Maloof Research Group, Department of Geosciences, Princeton University

    MENTOR(S)

    Adam Maloof, Professor of Geosciences; Ryan Manzuk, Ph.D. candidate, Geosciences

    My focus was on modeling and analyzing the structure of prehistoric sponge-reef fossils to determine the role these reefs played in the Cambrian explosion, the period more than 500 million years ago when multicellular animals began appearing on Earth. I segmented images of fossil cross sections to produce training data for a convolutional neural network, which allowed us to turn fossil samples into digital 3D models of reefs. I also wrote code in MATLAB software that allowed us to trace reef branches across different cross sections of a fossil sample. This capability let us quickly analyze basic structural properties such as branching angle, which is crucial for understanding how these reefs contributed to the evolution of marine life. During my internship, I improved my coding and data skills and developed a greater awareness of the Cambrian Period. I also deepened my understanding of the research process and how I can approach and structure problems in the natural sciences.

  • Torrens, Kai ’22

    Physics
    PROJECT

    The Effects of Large Carnivore Reintroduction on Antelope, Birds and Parasites in Gorongosa National Park

    ORGANIZATION / LOCATION

    Pringle Lab, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University

    MENTOR(S)

    Robert Pringle, Associate Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; Matthew Hutchinson, Ph.D. candidate, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

    Certificate(s): Applied and Computational Mathematics

    I studied two ecological puzzles in Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique. As wildlife recovered from the Mozambican civil war, a single species of antelope known as waterbuck experienced huge population growth. I helped the Pringle Lab investigate how this population growth impacted waterbuck ecology by analyzing camera-trap videos to determine the variation in waterbuck foraging rates across habitat. Secondly, it is suspected that nyala and bushbuck — two largely forest-dwelling antelope species — compete for the same resources as waterbuck and that nyala generally outcompete them. With guidance from the lab, I used camera-trap data to start building an occupational model of the spatial overlap of these two species and dietary data from DNA metabarcoding to investigate the overlap of their diets. I gained a working knowledge of the R programming language, familiarity with a broad range of data types, and vastly expanded my confidence in my ability to explore literature and understand scientific papers. The Pringle Lab is incredibly welcoming and a fantastic group of people. I feel lucky to have worked with them, and I hope to keep working on these problems with them going forward!

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  • Ulrich, Devon ’23

    Computer Science
    PROJECT

    Reconstructing Earth’s First Reefs and Their Impacts on the Cambrian Explosion

    ORGANIZATION / LOCATION

    Maloof Research Group, Department of Geosciences, Princeton University

    MENTOR(S)

    Adam Maloof, Professor of Geosciences; Ryan Manzuk, Ph.D. candidate, Geosciences

    My internship focused on analyzing fossils from the Cambrian explosion, a period in Earth’s history marked by an enormous increase in new species and overall biodiversity as complex life forms first evolved and spread. Not much is known about why it took place, however, and its origins and causes are still largely unexplained. The Maloof Research Group is investigating the importance of oceanic reefs in the development of life during the Cambrian explosion. My primary goal was to create a computational method for analyzing fossilized shell samples obtained from an ancient Cambrian reef. I used machine learning and computer vision algorithms to automatically categorize each sample into different types of rock. I also created MATLAB programs to automatically search through our images and identify shells with the help of machine learning models. This was a really great hands-on introduction to computer vision and data science, and I learned about programming in MATLAB using different machine learning algorithms and analyzing digital images. I will definitely explore more opportunities in computer vision and data science.

  • Vasen, Samuel ’23

    Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
    PROJECT

    Reserve and Forest Restoration Study

    ORGANIZATION / LOCATION

    The Watershed Institute

    MENTOR(S)

    Steve Tuorto, Director of Science and Stewardship, The Watershed Institute

    For my internship, I worked on a detailed forestry survey of over 1,000 acres of preserved land at The Watershed Institute, a land and water conservation organization in New Jersey. The goal of my project was to translate the survey’s significant data set into accessible metrics on the health and composition of distinct sections of the forest. I worked with my mentor to analyze and extract relevant data points that reflected forest health. I compiled these data into interactive layers on a digital map using a geographic information system (GIS) program. My final product was an interactive website embedded with this map that functions as a tool to help The Watershed Institute ascertain forest health and composition. From this project, I gained substantial analytical skills and a strong command of GIS mapping software. I found the open-ended and creative side of this project very engaging. Working with an organization like The Watershed Institute has increased my drive to do more work in conservation.

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  • Climate and Environmental Science
  • Arnold, Janelle ’23

    Chemical and Biological Engineering
    PROJECT

    Investigating Trace-Gas Uptake in Chilean High Andes Soil Microbe Communities

    ORGANIZATION / LOCATION

    Geomicrobiology Group, Department of Geosciences, Princeton University

    MENTOR(S)

    Tullis Onstott, Professor of Geosciences; Zachary Garvin, Ph.D. candidate, Geosciences

    Certificate(s): Environmental Studies

    I analyzed metagenomic data recovered from soil samples collected from a hot spring in Chile’s Atacama Desert. The microbial communities in this region are unique in that they survive under extreme conditions and with few nutrients. My goal was to investigate the biodiversity of these microbial soil communities and to identify high-affinity trace-gas oxidizers. Previously, the Onstott Lab identified from these soil samples hydrogen and carbon monoxide gas uptake that appeared to be biological and more active in areas farther from the hot spring. I investigated the uptake of hydrogen by using the group 1h hydrogenase enzyme in nickel-iron alloy as a biomarker to identify organisms with hydrogen-scavenging metabolisms. Using Hidden Markov models, I was able to train a program to identify these hydrogenases within genome sequences. Similar to the previous data, I identified more high-affinity hydrogen oxidizers farther from the hot spring. This supports the idea that microbial communities in low-nutrient environments are more likely to rely on trace-gas scavenging for their survival. This internship gave me more insight into the field of geobiololgy and bioinformatics, while equipping me with the knowledge to analyze more genomic data in the future.

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  • Baskind, Abigail ’22

    Geosciences