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Common App: "Insect"


Steve Cho

Admitted: MIT

I finally relax as I leave behind the island that had been working me into the ground for the better part of the day. My shirt, especially my sleeves, is in shreds, and my sneakers sport a thick cast of mud that refuses to come off. My pants more closely resemble a thorn bush than a pair of Levi’s, with the dozens of spikes and burrs stuck in them.

I am quite certain that I did not do much to warrant this kind of malicious treatment from Grape Island, one of the Boston Harbor Islands. All I wanted was to collect some habitat data while my two companions capture hemipteras – true bugs in common term – using sweeping nets. I desperately need the data for my beetle research to understand more about their habitats.

As the renowned entomologist and naturalist Dr. E.O. Wilson put it, “Many children have a bug period.” From a pair of stag beetles I had as pets while in middle school to more focused research and study in entomology in high school, I have developed a deeper fascination with the world of arthropods. My bug period seems to be lengthening by the day, and there is no end in sight.

During the summer of 2008, I took the largest plunge yet into the world of arthropods. Three months prior, I had contacted various entomology professors across the country. Of the numerous professors who replied, I was given an opportunity to work with Dr. Brian Farrell and Dr. Jessica Rykken at Harvard University’s Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ). At the time, they had been working for over three years on the All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory (ATBI) project on the Boston Harbor Islands to survey all the insects on the islands.

My work has continued for the last three summers, and I have had an incredible experience. I began to see the science behind the field research, and more importantly, I could see the great significance of the work the researchers were doing, given the rising challenges Massachusetts has been facing with invasive insects and beetles, particularly the Asian Long Horned Beetle. Entomology is far more than an examination and cataloging of insects; it is a living science that could be used to study our environment. This summer I decided to take on my own project under the direction of Dr. Farrell and Dr. Rykken. Building on the knowledge of coleopteras (beetles) I had amassed in the past two years, I designed a study to research the relationship between species diversity of carabidae (ground beetles) and their habitats.

Armed with only a clipboard full of paper, a camera, and a GPS device to guide me, I squeeze through forests, climb steep – almost cliff like – outcroppings, and wade through deep mud on Grape Island to carry out my research. I hope to collect enough data from the islands to compare with the habitats and the beetles back at the forest on my school campus. By the time I finish collecting the necessary data, I have cuts, bruises, and mud all over my body. More important than the rashes and scratches is the data I need to complete my study; sheets of precious information about the various habitats and their vegetation, soil, and water sources make the grueling days on the island worthwhile.

It is definitely a tiring day, and I am exhausted by the end of it. Yet, it also affirms the fact that I am a hands-on scientist. I am drawn to immerse myself in the field and to make connections and new discoveries that will progress those areas. Studying entomology – albeit child’s play to many people – is a passion and life direction for me. To see its applications in environmental science, plant biology, biodiversity, and bioengineering is fascinating and is what I want to explore in the years to come.

As I pluck various pieces of the island off my clothes and from my skin while the boat propels back to Long Wharf, I begin planning for my next trip to Thompson Island and smile knowing that each day I am devoting myself to something I love.

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