Newswise — One research project at Cornell College is all about the data.
“There are probably about 70,000 data points that we are looking at, but honestly a lot of times it feels like there isn’t enough,” said Cornell College Junior, Ben Garcia.
He’s working with Professor Marty Condon on a long-running research project that focuses on the evolutionary biology of some unique flies, the flowers they live on, and their predators, to better understand the diverse species from Central and South America.
Professor Condon and her research team are the only people who have ever studied this biological system. They’re learning something new about the flies all of the time.
“Evolutionary biologists are curious about this amazing diversity of life on earth,” Professor Condon said. “The work we are doing, we are discovering diversity that nobody has ever discovered before, and tropical forests are disappearing. So, this is a basic knowledge problem. We are losing diversity very quickly, and we are trying to discover what’s there before it’s gone.”
Professor Condon regularly makes trips with students and other researchers to collect data.
“We have collected very detailed data for all of our trips. Most of the data we haven’t exploited yet,” said Professor Marty Condon. “So, Ben is giving me new insights and a new look at the details that we’ve collected over the years.”
Garcia is learning computer coding to analyze the data and asking questions that have never been asked before. He considered everything from flower age to the pattern in which the flies lay their eggs.
“What I’ve been doing is taking biological theorems about what is going on in the system and then thinking—if this theory about why a fly might lay an egg on this plant is true, what would we expect the data to look like?”
From computer programming to developing research questions, Garcia is also learning valuable skills that will help him as he plans for the future after Cornell College.
“Knowing how to code is going to be really helpful in a biology field. I have been talking to a few people who are in graduate school in biology and chemistry and they say it’s a lot of coding, analyzing data, and running models. I think this is going to be a huge skill to have and a very marketable skill to have in the long run.”