November 17, 2022

L&C Science Researchers Garner Top Regional Awards

At a five-state conference in November, the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust recognized the outstanding work of science researchers Margaret Metz, associate professor of biology, and Jack Waite BA ’23 and Sofia Reeves BA ’23.

In November, the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust hosted the 31st annual Murdock College Science Research Conference. This event gathered more than 400 college students and faculty to celebrate outstanding research at 28 institutions of higher learning in a five-state region across the Pacific Northwest.

For two days, students shared oral and poster presentations, listened to lectures, and networked with peers and faculty. The experience is designed to develop students’ science communication skills. This year, 10 students from Lewis & Clark’s Math and Natural Sciences Division participated in the conference.

The event concludes with an awards ceremony to celebrate outstanding faculty and student participants. Lewis & Clark, which has a robust faculty-student science research program, was well represented among this year’s award winners.

The Swanson Promise Award: Associate Professor Margaret Metz

The 2022 Lynwood W. Swanson Promise for Scientific Research Award was given to Margaret Metz, associate professor of biology. The Swanson Promise Award is intended to recognize a junior faculty member with less than 10 years of faculty experience who has demonstrated an exceptional potential in establishing an exemplary, productive, and sustainable research program. Another Lewis & Clark faculty member, Tamily Weissman-Unni, associate professor of biology and department chair, received the award in 2017.

Margaret Metz Margaret Metz
Credit: Copyright, Steve Hambuchen
Metz and her students conduct field research
on pathogens and natural regeneration in an old-growth conifer forest in southwest Washington. She also oversees ongoing research programs in both the coastal forests of the western United States and in the tropical rainforests of eastern Ecuador.

Metz has received four competitive National Science Foundation (NSF) grants since 2014, all of which have engaged Lewis & Clark students in field research and data analysis. Her most recent NSF grant, totaling $300,000, funds a collaboration between Metz and colleagues at Yale University and Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador. Participants will engage in a yearlong mentored research experience centered around a summer spent at a remote research station in the Amazon. At this location, students will conduct independent ecological research to understand rainforest diversity and dynamics.

“Professor Metz brings an extraordinary level of expertise and professionalism to our community,” said Bruce Suttmeier, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “She is a wonderful combination of theoretician, naturalist, mentor, teacher, and role model. Her expertise and scholarship strengthen our institution; her commitment to inclusive pedagogy inspires us; and as a teacher, mentor, and role model, she enhances our students’ lives.”

In awarding Metz the Swanson Promise Award, the Murdock Trust has recognized Metz’s contributions to the understanding of forest dynamics and disturbances in a changing world, as well as her work in inspiring students to appreciate and protect the Earth’s biodiversity.

Student Awards

In addition to its faculty awards, the Murdock Trust honors outstanding student presentations and research at the conclusion of the conference. This year, two Lewis & Clark students received prizes for work that was originally developed as part of the John S. Rogers Science Research Program at Lewis & Clark:

2022 John Van Zytveld Life Sciences Award (Oral Presentation, Life Sciences Division)

Jack Waite BA '23 selfie. He is wearing a brown hoodie with a white outline drawing of two mountains. Jack Waite BA ’23 Awardee: Jack Waite BA ’23, biochemistry and molecular biology major

Mentor: Sharon Torigoe, assistant professor of biology

Presentation Title: “The Function of a Low-Affinity Transcription Factor Binding Site in Pluripotency-Specific Gene Expression”

Description: “My work attempts to understand how DNA sequences determine the gene expression patterns underlying cell identity.”

2022 Murdock Poster Prize for Ecology-Evolution-Biodiversity

Sophia Reeves BA '23 poses outside. She has long pink hair and is wearing a black shirt with pink flowers and blue jeans. Sofia Reeves BA ’23

Nina Johnson
Awardee: Sofia Reeves BA ’23, biology major

Mentor: Greta Binford, professor of biology

Poster Title: “Why has PLD Activity Diversified in Sicariid Venoms? Functional Relevance of Venom Toxin Diversification”

Description: “My work focuses on how venom proteins from the Sicariidae spider family have diversified in relationship to the properties of the cells of their prey. I test these proteins in the model systems of caterpillar cell culture and fruit flies.”

About the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust

The Murdock Trust provides grants to organizations in five states of the Pacific Northwest—Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington—that seek to strengthen the region’s educational, spiritual, and cultural base in creative and sustainable ways. Since its inception in 1975, the Murdock Trust has awarded more than 7,500 grants totaling more than $1.2 billion.

Biology Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Rogers Science Research Program