State of the Planet

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DEADLINE EXTENDED–Apply today to be a research assistant

By Cari Shimkus

The Earth Institute is offering undergraduate students with research assistant opportunities during the fall 2017 semester. Undergraduates from Columbia and Barnard will be able to serve as research assistants on research projects related to sustainable development and the environment with distinguished faculty and researchers at the cutting edge of this burgeoning field.

While research assistant positions at Columbia are generally awarded to graduate students, this program instead aims to present undergraduates with a unique opportunity to be involved in research at a high level and to gain valuable experience and skills for their future academic and professional careers.

Successful applicants will work directly with faculty on these projects on a part-time basis. These research assistantships are funded at a rate of $15 per hour for up to 10 hours a week for 12 weeks (a maximum of 120 hours during the semester). The research positions are:

  1. Assessing Deep Pacific Carbon Storage at the Mid-Pleistocene Transition
  2. Carbon and oxygen stable isotopes white spruce network across North America
  3. The Deep-Sea Sediment Record of Environmental Change in the Labrador Sea, North Atlantic Ocean
  4. Deforestation and Large-Scale Land Acquisitions
  5. Enterococci in the Hudson River: Combined Sewer Overflow, Sources of Contamination at 125th Street, and Policy Issues for the Waterfront of the New Columbia Campus
  6. Modeling spatiotemporal distribution of PM2.5 and Black Carbon in NYC
  7. The role of microclimate in mosquito oviposition choice and survival of immature Aedes albopictus mosquitoes
  8. Using fluid-mechanical experiments to gain insight into glaciological processes

To apply:

Complete the online application available here by September 14, 2017 at 11:55pm (NEW DEADLINE). While you may apply for more than one position, you must submit separate applications. Note that only undergraduates from Columbia and Barnard are eligible to apply. Decisions will be made shortly after the deadline.

Students who are awarded research assistantships are expected to participate in the Earth Institute Student Research Showcase in spring 2018.

Contact Cari Shimkus ( with any questions.

Assessing Deep Pacific Carbon Storage at the Mid-Pleistocene Transition

Department: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Anticipated tasks: This project is a paleoclimate study, using deep-sea sediments to investigate the chemistry of the ocean across a key climate transition that occurred from about 1.2-0.7 million years ago. The tasks performed by the research assistant will lead to the generation of trace element records from fossil benthic foraminifera, which record deep ocean chemistry in the past. Firstly, the research assistant will aid in the processing of sediment samples taken from deep-sea cores collected by the Research assistantational Ocean Discovery Program (IODP). Specifically, the research assistant will wash and sieve the sediment samples, and will then pick and archive the relevant microfossil species using a light microscope. After the appropriate species have been picked, we will work together to analyze our microfossil samples via Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry here at LDEO. Following data collection, the research assistant will analyze the data and compare our new trace element record with other paleoceanographic and physical property records from the sediment core.

Skills required: There are no required lab skills to participate in this project. The research assistant for this project must be detail-oriented and self-motivated, with an interest in earth system processes, climate/ocean studies, and/or geochemistry. The research assistant must be able to travel to the Lamont-Doherty campus during weekdays.

Carbon and Oxygen Stable Isotopes White Spruce Network across North America

Department: Tree-Ring Lab, Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory

Anticipated tasks: The student will work with dendrochronological techniques (i.e., sanding, crossdating, measuring, statistical quality controls) and stable isotopic methodology (i.e., separation of individual tree rings, cellulose extraction and homogenization, preparation and precision weighing of cellulose samples, online isotopic ratio mass spectrometry, evaluation of isotopic measurements). Blue intensity new methodology for measuring density using image data software. Data analyses of the resulting tree-ring series and interpretation of the results.

Skills required: Responsibility and accuracy in order to develop the lab work precisely. Approximate number of hours required: between 6-10 hours are desirable. However, the number of hours is flexible and it will depend on depending on student availability. Previous lab experience will be positively evaluated.

The Deep-Sea Sediment Record of Environmental Change in the Labrador Sea, North Atlantic Ocean

Department: Earth and Environmental Sciences, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Anticipated tasks: During the summer of 2017 we recovered several new sediment cores from the Labrador Sea off the coasts of Newfoundland, Canada and southwestern Greenland during a seagoing expedition as part of a collaborative effort, “ICY-LAB” in conjunction with colleagues from the UK. These promising cores hold the potential to be important new archives of oceanographic and environmental change, yet they have never been studied. The undergraduate research assistant chosen for this project therefore will be among the first contributors to the important science that will emerge from this research. The project will address important questions about melting ice sheets, iceberg discharge, ocean circulation and abrupt climate change in the past with crucial implications for the future.

This project is designed to look at the impact of past abrupt changes on the cryosphere, ocean circulation, and the Earth’s climate, regionally and globally. It involves piecing together evidence related to catastrophic iceberg discharges, changes in the large-scale system of deep ocean currents, and dramatic climate shifts in various parts of the globe.

The research assistant will help sample, process, and analyze the deep-sea sediments from the Labrador Sea, which have now been shipped to the world-renowned core repository at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Core samples will then go through initial processing tasks that include freeze-drying, weighing on a microbalance, wet-sieving using a semi-automated system, oven drying and re-weighing of the coarse material, settling, and decanting and air-drying of the finest material. In consultation with Prof. McManus, the research assistant will then select a subset of the samples for detailed analysis of the sediment composition, microfossil abundance and assemblage, grain size distribution, and abundance of iceberg deposition. These analyses will include a combination of automated bulk measurements and observations using a binocular microscope. All necessary training will be provided. The selected undergraduate will then help interpret the results, with guidance from Prof. McManus. Although this will be a freestanding project pursued by the research assistant, it will be placed in the larger context of parallel ongoing studies designed to explore the global connection of abrupt climate changes in the past.

Skills required: Training will be provided for all specific tasks and instrument use. It is important that the research assistant be diligent, careful, and willing to learn. Although not necessary, it will be helpful if she or he has some familiarity with the Earth’s climate system, oceanography, and/or basic laboratory practices. The research assistant and project will benefit most from the right research assistant’s combination of independence and ability to work well with others.

Deforestation and Large-Scale Land Acquisitions

Department: Earth Institute

Anticipated tasks: The primary task of the research assistant will be to format and standardize input variables for use in an R statistical package called ‘Matching’; this package will be used to control for factors that may influence an area’s likelihood to undergo forest loss (e.g., distance to road, proximity to forest edge) and to examine whether simply being inside of a land acquisition makes forest loss more likely. Time permitting, the research assistant will also participate in code writing in R and help to run the ‘Matching’ model.

Skills required: The research assistant should be proficient in the use of Excel. Introductory experience in a coding language is preferred (but not necessary).

Enterococci in the Hudson River: Combined Sewer Overflow, Sources of Contamination at 125th Street, and Policy Issues for the Waterfront of the New Columbia Campus

Department: Environmental Science at Barnard College

Anticipated tasks: This project offers the unusual opportunity for an undergraduate research assistant to work with environmental scientists in the Dept. of Environmental Science at Barnard College, in the Civil Engineering Department at Columbia, at the Lamont Observatory, and from the Hudson Riverkeeper and the NRDC’s NY Harbor Program as well as many individuals from different walks of life (including the local community board and the North River Water Pollution Control Plant) who are intimately involved with the Harlem waterfront and the Manhattanville area. The student research assistant will have major responsibility for sampling and analysis of water column and sediment for enterococcus bacteria, the federal standard for fecal wastes in natural waters. The student research assistant will also have responsibility for building the Enterococcus Study Group (ESG), a group of eight Barnard and Columbia Students who have been trained for sampling and analysis of Enterococcus, sampling and analysis of Enterococci bacteria, further developing the Enterococcus website, maintaining the newly developed enterococcus laboratory, assisting the Introductory ES laboratories (that have now become an important source of data), and assist in the writing of a report summarizing the results of this study and making public health and policy recommendations.

Skills required: Ability to learn sampling and laboratory procedures, ability to work in the field and on board the research vessel Seawolf, facility with excel and data analysis, ability to manage a laboratory and students of the Enterococcus Study Group at Barnard.

Modeling Spatiotemporal Distribution of PM2.5 and Black Carbon in NYC

Department: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Anticipated tasks: This is to continue the project “Mapping air pollutants in NYC” supported by the EI summer research assistant program. This project will build on the findings in spatial and temporal patterns identified from EPA and DEC rooftop monitors in NYC, and focus on improving the citywide model to predict air pollutants such as PM2.5 and Black Carbon (BC) to a higher temporal resolution (from the current seasonal to the proposed sub-week and hours within a day) and maybe a higher spatial resolution.

The research assistant will have tasks to: 1) understand the current citywide spatial regression model; 2) update the parameters used in the model and explore more real-time traffic related parameters; and 3) improve the model by incorporating these parameters and high-resolution spatiotemporal PM and BC patterns from an ongoing NIH funded project. Work load will be 120 hours in total, 10 hours per week for 12 weeks.

Skills required: Basic statistics, database development, and familiarity with one or more computer programs, such as R.

The Role of Microclimate in Mosquito Oviposition Choice andSurvival of Immature Aedes Albopictus Mosquitoes

Department: Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology

Anticipated tasks: The research assistant will assist in building and deploying mosquito ovitraps (i.e., traps targeted for females looking to lay eggs) using artificial plastic containers to assess the occurrence and distribution of mosquitoes on the Lamont-Dougherty campus. In concert, the student will set up temperature and relative humidity data loggers at each ovitrap location to understand microclimate conditions. The research assistant will also work with graduate students and post-doctoral researchers in data cleaning and analysis.

Skills required: Fieldwork experience (comfortable being in wooded areas with ticks and mosquitoes), introductory statistics, ArcGIS and R (optional).

Using Fluid-Mechanical Experiments to Gain Insight into Glaciological Processes

Department: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Anticipated tasks: During this project the Research Assistant will work with the principal investigators to set-up, run and analyze a series of fluid-mechanical laboratory experiments. These experiments are designed to simulate fundamental glaciological processes such as those occurring in the large ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica. In the laboratory, viscous fluids will be used to simulate the flow of glaciers and ice sheets, which flow viscously on much larger spatial scales.

Skills required: Some understanding of the fundamentals of glaciology. Some understanding of fluid mechanics/dynamics. Ability to solve practical problems and use basic tools: screwdriver, wrench, etc. Knowledge of experimental/scientific method. Ability to work independently and follow written/verbal instructions. Ability to attend Lamont as required (weekly requirements: 2 mornings/afternoons) to undertake experiments.

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Atilola Abidemi-Iromini
Atilola Abidemi-Iromini
6 years ago

It is a good opportunity for ecologist