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Walla Walla University Student Wins Prestigious Murdock Prize for Marine Research


Six students from the Walla Walla University Department of Biological Sciences presented their research at the Murdock College Science Research Conference in Vancouver, Washington, Nov. 8-9. The theme of the conference was “Collaboration — A Key to Success in Undergraduate Research.”

WWU undergraduate students who conducted a significant amount of scientific research and had interesting results to share with a broader audience were selected to attend the conference.

Four of the students conducted their research through WWU, either on the College Place campus or at Rosario Beach Marine Laboratory. Two others, Ricky Wright, senior biology major, and Abbie Underhill, senior bioengineering major, researched at the University of Washington and Loma Linda University, respectively. 

Luke Thomas, junior biology (pre-medicine) major, and Barbara Kiers, junior biology (pre-veterinary) major, co-presented their research on oxygen consumption of nudibranchs at the Murdock Conference. “Barbara and I really wanted to do a project involving scuba diving, and David Cowles, WWU professor of biology, told us about an interesting species of nudibranch that burrows. We started to investigate and the next thing I knew we were in the middle of our project,” said Thomas.

Noah Cline, senior biology major, conducted his research at WWU on bacteria associated with Antarctic sea stars. “The research done here at Walla Walla has given me the opportunity to get hands-on experience with techniques and concepts that I might use in my future career,” Cline said. “Attending the Murdock conference was beneficial because it showed me what to expect from future research conferences that I might attend.”

Kallan Richards, sophomore biochemistry major, was another student in attendance. As part of the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust Grant, Richards researched alongside C.J. Brothers, WWU assistant professor of biology. “I was researching seagrass wasting disease in the Salish Sea with Dr. Brothers and her team. Our research was divided into a field study and a lab study,” said Richards.

Richards’ poster presentation was selected for a Murdock Poster Prize in the category of Ecology-Evolution-Biodiversity. “I was pretty shocked. We actually had to leave the conference before the awards ceremony, but none of us were too upset because we didn't expect to win anything,” said Richards. “I found out my presentation had received an award the next day when the director of the conference emailed me. I had to read the email a few times before it sunk in. Then, of course, I called my mom.” 

“Participating in the Murdock Conference allowed me to exchange ideas with other students and scientists. I got to catch a glimpse of the incredible research being done at other universities, and in return, I got to share the results of my own research experience," Richards said.

The M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust, created by the will of the late Melvin J. (Jack) Murdock, 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 and cultural base in creative and sustainable ways. “Attending Murdock is a huge benefit. Not only is it something that graduate schools are looking for, but it is also a truly unique way to experience just how much research is being done by other undergraduates,” said Thomas.


This article was written by Makena Horton, University Relations student writer, and originally appeared on the Walla Walla University website.

Main image: WWU students are nominated to attend this conference every year by WWU faculty who conduct life science research. Images courtesy of WWU.


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