Mary Margaret Stoll ’17 is a double major in chemistry and environmental studies. Her advisor is Professor Anna Martini. Her thesis examines the properties of ice core specimens from Antarctica.
Q: What is your thesis? What are you studying?
A: I’m doing an environmental studies thesis, and I’ve been looking at six sea ice cores from Antarctica. I’ve been studying the structure and chemistry and oxygen isotopes and how all those properties vary with depth.
Q: How did you get this idea to study sea ice?
A: Well, I was studying away from Amherst last spring semester, and I took a class called “Environmental Issues in the Earth’s Polar Regions,” and that got me interested in the Arctic and the Antarctic, and I found a professor at the school that I was at to do summer research with.
Q: How did you actually study the ice? How did that whole process work?
A: For the structural part of it, I actually didn’t do the research part of that. But there were students at the school that I was at, who cut the sea ice cores into 10-centimeter sections and took what’s called vertical thin section images, so you can see the inside of the sea ice, and how the ice grains are angled, and all of that. And then, for the chemistry, we melted 10-centimeter sections of the sea ice core, and we ran cation and anion analysis to find the concentrations of sodium and chloride. And then, for the isotopes, we were specifically looking at oxygen, so we looked at the ratio of 16O to 18O [oxygen isotopes], and that helped us determine the origin of the water, whether it was from freshwater precipitation or sea water.
Q: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced so far?
A: There’s a lot of leeway in how you structure the thesis and time management, so it’s really up to you to complete the research in a timely manner and to stay on top of it. It’s such a big project — it’s been a challenge dealing with that. It’s a lot of writing too — for a science major, it’s a lot of writing.
Q: At which stage are you in the project right now?
A: I turned it in, so I finished the writing part of it! I have my defense tomorrow [April 18] and presentation on Wednesday [April 19], so two days away from being totally done.
Q: Do you have any advice for younger students who are thinking about writing a thesis? Things that you might have changed?
A: I think staying in communication with your advisor is really important. At least for me, my plan changed a lot throughout the process, so making sure that there’s an open lane for communication between you and your advisor, I’d say, is really important. They’ve been thesis advisors before, so they can provide a lot of advice and guidance in the research and the writing part of the thesis.
Q: Why is your thesis important? Why is it an important subject to research?
A: As climate change continues and environments start to change in the way of temperature and other properties like that, I think it’s really important to understand the very foundation of a lot of these environments. So understanding the … core structure and chemistry and isotopes of sea ice will help us predict what future environments will look like and can help with policymaking in these regions to protect marine organisms.