From the world to the Farm
“I’ve always considered myself to be ‘from nowhere’ – I’ve lived in Bahrain, Zambia, Madagascar, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Panama,” said Gabby Barratt Heitmann, Earth systems BS ’24, who participated in the 2021 Stanford Earth Summer Undergraduate Research (SESUR) program. “But now at Stanford, the Stanford Educational Farm is my favorite place to be on campus, so I wanted to tie my research to the land.”
During the SESUR program, Barratt Heitmann studied the role of small zones of oxygen depletion in protecting carbon in agricultural soils. She looked for microorganisms like bacteria and archaea that are only present in oxygen-depleted environments to see if their presence varied due to different soil types and farming practices.
“The research I worked on was focused on reducing the carbon dioxide flux from agricultural soils, which are a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions and thus contribute to climate change,” said Barratt Heitmann. “We hope that it will help to inform global carbon models and help us to better understand all the trade-offs behind our farming practices.”
Under the mentorship of PhD student Emily Lacroix and professor Scott Fendorf, Heitmann learned to extract DNA from soils, perform PCR and ddPCR to identify methanogen DNA, carry out intact soil core incubations, pack soils for elemental analysis, and analyze data using R.
“Stanford can sometimes be stagnant and overwhelming,”she said. “If you’re starting to feel drained, I suggest you explore an isolated spot on campus, or leave campus altogether. Sometimes it’s worth reminding yourself of the bigger world out there.”