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Taking wing at Stanford

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Christopher Noll
(Photo courtesy of Christopher Noll)

Christopher Noll

BS ‘23
Geological Sciences

September 15, 2021

“Fossilized leaves and fossilized insect wings look incredibly similar, so much so that, in poorly preserved fossils, it can be hard to tell the two apart,” said Christopher Noll, geological sciences BS ’23, who participated in the Stanford Earth Summer Undergraduate Research (SESUR) program. “From this similarity, my SESUR project was born.”

During his 2020 summer with SESUR, Noll studied insect wing vein density to see how it correlated with other variables, like wing length. Under the mentorship of PhD student Sandra Schachat and professor Kevin Boyce, Noll learned to code in the R programming language, analyze and illustrate notable trends, and present his findings.

“The study of wing vein density has incredible biomimicry applications,” said Noll, noting that robotic bees could be used to mimic insect flight and aid pollination. “Using the appropriate wing vein densities and vein patterns for the wing size can potentially help these vehicles fly for longer and with fewer wing failures.”

Noll presented his research during the Entomology 2020 Virtual Meeting hosted by the Entomological Society of America. He returned to the SESUR program in 2021 under the tutelage of professor Erik Sperling to determine if marine invertebrate physiology changes across latitudes in the modern ocean.

Noll was first introduced to geology research in high school through the 2018 Stanford Earth Young Investigators program. Now that he’s a full-time Stanford undergraduate, he advises students to take advantage of everything the university has to offer.

“The faculty themselves do amazing events, as well,” Noll said. “A fond memory of mine was attending GS movie nights, where scientists of the related subject would attend and critique the movie – for example, a Jurassic Park movie night with paleobotanist professor Andrew Leslie.”