Growing on campus
"This program has exposed me to professors, PhD students and researchers who have majored in many different fields that allow them to study life on Earth,” said Carmen Smith, a rising senior at Lincoln High School in San Jose who participated in the 2019 Stanford Earth Young Investigators summer program. “As I get to meet more people on campus and hear their stories, it becomes easier for me to plan for my own college experience.”
Smith assisted PhD student Suchana Costa in studying whether or not nitrogen-fixing plants are eaten more by insects and small herbivores than plants that do not combine with nitrogen. Studying this helped her understand the ecological pressures faced by legumes – a plant group that includes beans, peas and lentils – compared to other plants more commonly used in agriculture, such as wheat and corn.
As part of her work on the experiment, Smith got her hands dirty tagging leaves and documenting changes in leaf area over time. The project was particularly interesting to Smith because she is a vegetarian and relies on the protein from legumes for a complete diet. “Most nitrogen-fixing plants are legumes, which aren’t grown as often as cereal crops, despite their environmental and health benefits.” Legumes can play a part in sustainable farming by adding nitrogen to the soil, which helps other plants grow, as well as by reducing the need for fertilizers and their harmful runoff.
"This internship experience definitely expanded my knowledge of biology and botany, but the fun experiences like the potatoes I pulled from the ground, the food I ate and the people I interacted with will always have a special place in my heart."