News Archive

posted 06/29/05

Contact: Ken Kostel
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Sweating the Science

Lamont interns relaxing at lunch from left to right: Elena Chung (University of Maryland), Michael Peluso (Columbia University), Cecelia Baum (Columbia College), Mollie Reed (Middlebury College), Supria Ranade (Johns Hopkins University), Perri Gerard-Little (Columbia College), Violeta Jimenez (Columbia College), John Schneider (Columbia College). Photo credit: Dirk Kemp

You can tell it's summer when the mercury hits 90, the trees at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory finally leaf out, and the shuttle bus is packed with new faces. It's June and the summer interns have arrived at Lamont, bringing with them an infectious enthusiasm for science and a rapid-fire barrage of tough, probing questions. For some, their arrival also brings back memories of summers past.

This year marks the 28th year of the Lamont Summer Intern Program, and the second in a row that the program has welcomed a record-high 33 students—a number that has required the addition of a second shuttle bus on the morning and evening runs. But the number of students is perhaps the only thing that has changed over past years. The students still come to Lamont to do some serious work, a fact that has resonated with more than one alumnus of the program.

"I got a real taste for the excitement and collegiality of research," remembered Walter H.F. Smith, a geophysicist at NOAA's satellite altimetry laboratory and a member of the 1983 cohort of summer interns. "The fact that people with different levels of training and experience with a problem would sit down and work together on it because they all had a commitment to science was really eye-opening to me. I'm still doing similar kinds of work 20 years later and I still enjoy it."

Like Smith in 1983, many of this year's interns are getting their first taste of research and their first look at how science is done at the highest levels. For the scientists who work with them, the experience can be just as rewarding. Andrew Goodwillie, an associate research scientist at Lamont in Marine Geology and Geophysics—and an intern back in 1989—has three interns working with him in the same lab for the summer. His experience as both intern and scientist, has given him a unique perspective that he is eager to pass along to this generation. "My advice to them is: Do not be afraid to say you don't understand something," said Goodwillie. "I think that if people take that message away, it will give them a huge advantage if they choose to go on with science."

LEFT: Intern Sam Dorsi (Columbia College) playing Ultimate Frisbee. RIGHT: Dallas Abbott enters fourteenth year as the director of the internship program.
Photo credit: Dirk Kemp

Over the course of the summer, each of the interns will complete a hands-on research project under the guidance of a Lamont scientist. They also attend special lectures, workshops and field trips designed to give them a better picture of a scientist's life and the broad spectrum of career options and issues before them. At the end of summer, they take part in a poster session in which they present the results of their work and many of them also join the soccer, basketball or Ultimate Frisbee teams that seem to crop up at the drop of a lab notebook.

"They certainly work very hard while they're at Lamont," said Dallas Abbott, who is entering her fourteenth year as the director of the internship program. "But they're also completely integrated into daily life on campus."

For Goodwillie, who worked in the marine gravity group while he was an intern, the summer of 1989 was an eye-opener. Not only was his first trip to the U.S., it was also his first interaction with students from outside the British education system, a fact that he believes makes him especially suited to helping interns appreciate the experiences they will have and navigate the hurdles they will face — if they need his help at all, he says.

"It's a real pleasure seeing how bright these kids are," said Goodwillie. "I don't think I was in their league at that age."

The Earth Institute at Columbia University is the world's leading academic center for the integrated study of Earth, its environment and society. The Earth Institute builds upon excellence in the core disciplines — earth sciences, biological sciences, engineering sciences, social sciences and health sciences — and stresses cross-disciplinary approaches to complex problems. Through research, training and global partnerships, it mobilizes science and technology to advance sustainable development, while placing special emphasis on the needs of the world's poor. For more information, visit