Undergraduate Research Program

Ashika Capirala

Major: Earth and Space Sciences
Mentor: Alexis Licht (Earth and Space Sciences)

Contact: ashikac@uw.edu

Current research project: Reconstructing Paleoenvironments of Middle Eocene Myanmar using Stable Isotope Data of Paleosols from the Pondaung Formation


Ashika is a junior majoring in the physics track of Earth and Space Sciences and minoring in Chemistry. Since Fall 2019, she has been working in the Licht Lab on research involving paleoenvironments and isotope geochemistry. She is an aspiring astrobiologist, and her research interests lie in biogeochemistry and the co-evolution of life and earth. Outside of class and research, you can usually find her working on a digital art project, cooking, or learning how to do something new!


Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
My project over the last year involved gathering stable carbon isotope data from calcium carbonate nodules in fossil soil samples from the Pondaung Formation in Myanmar, which date to around 40 million years ago. This is coeval with the dispersal of early anthropoid primates from Asia to Africa. By measuring the ratio of 13C to 12C in soil carbonates and comparing it to modern measurements, we can estimate precipitation amounts, temperatures, and vegetation type in the past. Reconstructions from this particular sample site in Myanmar thus help us contextualize the environment and path in which this primate dispersal occurred.

My research over the past few months involves numerically modeling the formation of these soil carbonates to better understand their accumulation in Myanmar conditions. This information will help us improve isotopic interpretations of past and modern temperatures in Myanmar.


When, how, and why did you get involved in undergraduate research?
I got into research the fall of my sophomore year by emailing a professor whose class I had taken that I was interested in working with. I had always considered research as something I wanted to get into during my time at UW. Taking a few core classes in my major in my freshman year and being able to experience firsthand some of the basic methods used to investigate Earth’s processes and history was what really pushed me towards finding research to work on.


What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research?
It’s okay to start out in research without any prior experience or feel like you may not have the qualifications at first. Once you know you want to be involved in research, don’t be intimidated by reaching out to faculty you’re interested in working with, and let them know why you want to work with them! Additionally, it’s fine to not know exactly what you want to do when you start out – not everyone does, and you can have multiple research projects as a learning experience to discover your interests. Research can be an extremely rewarding experience in helping you discover more about a specific facet of your field and gain useful skills.