Education News

Earth Intern Program Concludes with Final Poster Presentations

2008-08-07

Earth Interns with Brian Mailloux, Assistant Professor of Environmental Science at Barnard, took part in the River Summer research excursion on the Hudson River.When she began her internship at the Earth Institute’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO) in Palisades, New York this summer, Mackenzie Yang (Columbia College ‘11) was excited to study the evidence of an ancient asteroid impact that occurred off the coast of New Zealand. On August 5th, 2008, Mackenzie and twenty-three fellow interns presented their final papers and scientific posters at LDEO’s Monell Auditorum, marking the conclusion of the Earth Intern program.

“Being an Earth Intern is an exciting experience for undergraduates. They are working at the frontiers of science, and neither they nor their advisor knows what they will find,” said Dr. Dallas Abbott, Adjunct Research Scientist of Marine Geology and Geophysics at LDEO, Intern Program Director and Mackenzie’s internship mentor. “Whether in the field or in the laboratory, they make a valuable contribution to the research while getting the chance to taste the creative challenges and enormous rewards involved with making new discoveries."

The Earth Intern program, co-sponsored by LDEO, the Earth Institute, Barnard College, and the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia, matches each student with a research scientist at LDEO.  The mentors oversee the interns’ research on topics ranging from the relationship between disease and climate in Sri Lanka to the arsenic groundwater contamination caused by a defunct chemical plant in New Jersey. LDEO is a rich environment in which to learn and grow, with over 200 research scientists seeking fundamental knowledge about the origin, evolution and future of the natural world.

“Not only did I learn a lot about my own project, I also got a chance to participate in every step of the scientific process—hypothesizing which layers to look at, collecting the data, writing a paper and designing my first scientific poster,” said Mackenzie. Mackenzie said that her experience with Dr. Abbott shed light on both the rigor and passion that the scientific process demands. “Once you discover something, it leads to something else, and you’re kept on your toes all the time.”

The final intern event featured one-minute presentations from each student, immediately followed by an all-intern poster session during which the interns, mentors, scientists and other members of the Columbia community in attendance had the chance to ask questions about the projects.

In the past six years, more than 70 students haveSamual Thomas, an Earth Intern who is completing a joint program at the Columbia University School of General Studies and Jewish Theological Seminary, studied plant respiration and rates of photosynthesis under the guidance of Kevin Griffin, Associate Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia. participated in the summer Earth Intern Program, which has grown to include students from the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Program. The NSF REU Program has supported undergraduate research participation since 1982 and now allocates 1700-1800 grants to undergraduates and special REU sites per year. 

The program gave Mackenzie and the other 23 interns the chance to execute their experiments from start to finish and build a long-lasting relationship with their faculty mentors. After the conclusion of last year’s summer program, 13 of the Earth Interns from Columbia and Barnard continued to conduct research at LDEO through the 2007-2008 academic year. Every year, numerous interns also present their work at national meetings or have their senior theses published, and many decide to pursue graduate-level degrees and teaching careers in the sciences.

For more information about the Earth Intern Program, please contact Dallas Abbott at (845) 365-8664 or dallas@ldeo.columbia.edu.

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The Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO) is a key component of The Earth Institute at Columbia University. LDEO scientists observe Earth on a global scale, from its deepest interior to the outer reaches of its atmosphere, on every continent and in every ocean. From global climate change to earthquakes, volcanoes, nonrenewable resources, environmental hazards and beyond, the Observatory’s fundamental challenge is to provide a rational basis for the difficult choices faced by humankind in the stewardship of this fragile planet.