CREWS Undergraduate Research Highlight: Lark Olson

Meet Lark Olson, an undergraduate student who participated in the 2022 CREWS Undergraduate Research Internship program!  

During Summer 2022 (Year 4 of the project), six undergraduate students participated in CREWS research through the CREWS Undergraduate Research Internship program and the National Science Foundation’s (NSF)Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program. These students worked directly with CREWS faculty and graduate students to assist with research on a particular aspect of the project, gain hands-on field and lab experience, and further explore their academic, professional, and personal interests and goals.     

CREWS Research Intern: Lark Olson    

Internship Advisors: Dr. Maury Valett    

Researchers working in a river to collect samples

Lark Olson was born in Whitefish, Montana, and grew up in Kalispell. She is currently a sophomore at the University of Montana pursuing majors in Environmental Science and Sustainability and Music (with a cello focus), with minors in Climate Change Studies and Ecological Restoration. She loves to rock climb, ski, backpack, and just be outside in general. She also really enjoys playing bluegrass music, as she plays a bit of banjo and mandolin. Olson originally applied to work as a technician in the Valett Aquatic Ecology Laboratory because she was determined to gain experience in the world of science at a young age in order to develop her skills for other scientific excursions in the future. After several weeks of working in the lab, Maury offered her an REU position which she happily accepted.   

This summer, Olson carried out a photogrammetric assessment of algal pigment standing crops. She also collected biomass samples to analyze pheophytin, benthic biomass, and chlorophyll-a. She found that green reflectance values collected from each image using ImageJ analysis software had a positive correlation with total pigment standing crop (pheophytin + chlorophyll-a), and that blue reflectance had a negative correlation with total pigments. Olson also delegated four color categories using a color wheel and sorted images into each category in order to determine whether chlorophyll standing crops can be estimated optically. Based on her results, with further development, this method could become achievable and feasible.   

Olson worked quite a lot with the Drone Remote Sensing team from Montana State, led by Riley Logan (a graduate student at MSU investigating hyperspectral imagery and algal bloom analysis). Maury Valett was Olson’s primary advisor throughout the REU program, and she says that it was a joy to work with him. She also worked with other members of the Valett Lab, as well as some folks from the Ben Colman Lab (which is also a part of the University of Montana).  

Overall, she expressed that she couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to the world of aquatic ecology, and scientific pursuits in general. “Everybody I worked with was supportive, but also pushed me to figure things out on my own in a productive and efficient manner,” Olson says. “I hope to continue to work on my project throughout this year, and maybe eventually make an undergraduate thesis out of it.”  

Olson’s ultimate professional goal is to pursue a career in the field of climate change remediation. This is something that she's always been very passionate about, and this summer of undergraduate research helped her make a lot of great connections within the scientific community. She says that she “also made loads of friends with all the fabulous people I had the opportunity to work with!”