Katherine Zhao ’17



Project Title

Water and Isotopes in Central Kenya

Presentation Link

View Katherine's Presentation

This summer, I worked at Mpala Research Center in Laikipia, Kenya as an intern studying the photosynthetic characteristics of the African Acacia trees. I learned to use instruments such as the Li-Cor 6400 to record photosynthesis and transpiration rates. Tracking rates of photosynthesis and transpiration throughout the day, we learned about the vulnerability of Acacia leaves to drought and water stress. By exploring how carbon fixation and stomatal conductance vary with leaf age, we can understand more about the interaction of this plant with water in its environment. I learned a lot about the methods of data collection and fieldwork, and how to evaluate the relationships between keystone plants, their environments, and the availability of water in their surrounding areas. In addition to exposing me to field research, this internship also allowed me to explore the natural environment of the central Kenya highlands—the elephant herds that roam through Mpala, and the wild dog packs and elusive cheetahs and lions that prowl about. I also made friends with Kenyan students and researchers, sharing our cultures with each other around the dinner table, safely inside the fences of Mpala.

Internship Year


Project Category



Caylor Ecohydrology Lab and Mpala Research Center, Kenya


Kelly Caylor, Associate Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering; Hilary Wayland, Ph.D. Candidate, Civil and Environmental Engineering