Spotlight on Students: Rachel Kahn ’17 Takes on Oceans of Opportunity


As a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Fellow, this summer Rachel Kahn ’17 is drawing from her varied scientific interests and knowledge as she undertakes a unique research opportunity.

The topic of her research? Kahn is currently modeling the body temperature of a common species of barnacle, Balanus glandula, found on the West Coast of North America. The model will be used to predict the temperatures of other ocean organisms as weather and climate conditions vary. This data will help scientists understand how climate change is affecting marine ecosystems.

“I am the first person ever to model the body temperature of the species, so it feels great to know that I am doing something that nobody has done before,” Kahn explains.

Kahn found the project through the W.M. Keck Science Department. In addition to being of special interest to Kahn, the work has allowed her to make connections between two seemingly different subjects—marine ecology and physics, her major. In fact, Kahn has been conducting her research in collaboration with Sarah Gilman, professor of biology, and Scott Gould, professor of physics, emphasizing the interdisciplinary aspects of Scripps’ Joint Science Department.

“I never would have thought that I would be collaborating with a marine ecologist and a physicist on a single project. Having an understanding of how different disciplines relate will allow me to better contextualize and draw connections between what I learn at Scripps,” says Kahn.

As the study continues, Kahn feels proud to be conducting a project on her own. She appreciates the opportunity not only to learn new skills, but also to experience what a typical workday for a researcher is like.

“I have learned quite a bit about the process of conducting scientific research and about problem-solving when things don’t turn out as planned,” says Kahn. “My summer research experience has given me a clearer idea of what it would be like to have a career in scientific research.”