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Fulbright awards for OSU science students

Fulbright awards will take science students to Germany and New Zealand

By Srila Nayak

Oregon State University and the College of Science are thrilled to congratulate biochemistry and molecular biology Honors student Maja Engler and biology alumna Emily Newton ('12) on receiving the 2021 Fulbright Award.

A graduating senior, the Fulbright grant will take Engler to Germany where she will collaborate with scientists at Ulm University to research winter polymorphism in dwarf Djungarian hamsters, to better understand potential biomedical applications for humans.

Newton's Fulbright grant will enable her to conduct marine science research in relation to Antarctic ecosystems, in collaboration with scientists at the University of Otego in New Zealand.

From Norway to Oregon and beyond: A Fulbright awardee's journey

Maja Engler, Biochemistry and Biophysics
Fulbright awardee Maja Engler 

Before she started investigating the biochemistry of hibernation in small mammals, Maja Engler had acquired a deep familiarity with the natural world, a taste for cultural diversity and the ability to learn and adapt in different cities of the world. With her family, Engler spent her childhood living in Norway, Montana, Rhode Island and Wyoming. Engler’s time in a small mountain town in Wyoming was particularly memorable. Cowboys and bighorn sheep were a common sight. Her father taught her the names of local plants in Norwegian and English and as a child she learned to recognize the ancient symbols of native Indian cultures in the natural landscape.

“Receiving the Fulbright grant is an honor that celebrates all of my hard work and aspirations."

Fluent in Norwegian after residing for three years in Norway, Engler also lived in Kentucky before moving to Sandy, Oregon, from where she would complete her final year of high school, graduating as a valedictorian. After calling many places home, Engler also found a home at Oregon State.

“I quickly found a home with the Honors College and the College of Science. However, it took me a lot of trial and error to find a career path that I was passionate about,” writes Engler in her application.

Her journey as a scientist took off in earnest when Engler got an opportunity to join the research team of Matt Andrews, former OSU professor of biochemistry and biophysics, at the end of her sophomore year. Andrews, a pioneer in the application of hibernation science to human medicine, works in the development of hibernation-based methods to prolong the storage time of organs used for transplantation.

In Andrews’ lab, Engler discovered her passion for biomedical research. She investigated the molecular mechanisms of hibernating ground squirrels, carrying out cell culture tests to prepare an optimal solution for long-term organ storage using mammal models, such as swine kidneys, that are similar to human kidneys.

Engler received an internship offer from the NASA Kennedy Space Center, which was unfortunately cancelled due to COVID-19. She has won multiple awards to support her research endeavors at OSU and beyond. These include the Cripps Undergraduate Research Experience Fellowship in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, the Oregon State University Retirement Association Scholarship and the Oregon Space Grant Consortium Undergraduate Scholarship.

In Germany, Engler will deepen her knowledge on the physiology of hibernation and its potential biomedical extensions in the lab of Dr. Annika Herwig at the University of Ulm. Herwig's lab is the only one of its kind in the world studying brain-based mechanisms controlling winter polymorphism in animal models. Engler will pursue research on populations of Djungarian hamsters who have the ability to undergo a series of beneficial adaptations in winter that reduce their energy expenditure and enhance their chances of survival and successful reproduction in the spring.

“The knowledge of these mechanisms can thus be used to, for example, identify the pathways involved un human long-term body weight control, or to research the possibility of putting astronauts in hibernation during space travel,” said Engler.

She is also interested in coaching local youth soccer teams to build international relationships. Engler is excited about exploring an important part of her family history. Her great-grandparents immigrated from Germany in the 1890s and she hopes to use her time in the country to establish “a personal connection" of her own.

“Receiving the Fulbright grant is an honor that celebrates all of my hard work and aspirations. I am so excited to make strong connections and discover new perspectives within my field of science in Germany, a country known for its commitment to promoting global citizenship,” Engler said.

After completing her Fulbright fellowship, Engler will begin her Ph.D. in biochemistry focusing on hibernation research at the University of Nebraska in the lab of Matt Andrews, her former undergraduate research mentor. Her goal is to work for a space agency to carry out research on how to put astronauts into a hibernation-like state for safer and more efficient space travel.

Pursuing marine science in New Zealand

Emily Newton, Marine Biology
Fulbright awardee Emily Newton

Emily Newton graduated in 2012 with an Honors bachelor of science in marine biology and a minor in chemistry. In collaboration with the University of Otago, New Zealand, Emily proposes to conduct research on the possibility of two species of kelp-rafting marine invertebrates establishing in warming, nearshore Antarctic ecosystems. Scientists have found in recent times that a warming climate and rafts made of kelp species have transported nonnative, invasive species to Antarctic waters.

"Receiving a Fulbright award to study marine science in New Zealand feels like a critical life moment when my dreams begin their transition into reality."

The Fulbright award will support Newton’s Ph.D. research exploring the effect of these kelp-rafting marine invertebrates on warming, nearshore Antarctic ecosystems. She will work alongside two renowned Antarctic marine scientists, Ceridwen Fraser and Miles Lamare from the University of Otago.

Newton has acquired a vast range of deep sea experience as a diver and undersea specialist with Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic, where she has worked as a marine science expert leading educational tour groups in waters spanning Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, the Channel Islands and Antarctica.

As a biology student at OSU, Newton conducted undergraduate research with integrative biology Professor Mark Hixon’s research team on the impact of invasive lionfish on native fish populations in the Bahamas. This summer research internship was supported by a Howard Hughes Medical Institute scholarship and enabled her to discover the “fusion of scuba and science.”

Newton also won the prestigious Ernest F. Hollings scholarship while at OSU, an academic merit scholarship awarded by NOAA. The scholarship resulted in a summer internship where she conducted fisheries management research on behalf of NOAA for the Pacific Islands Region in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Following her graduation from OSU, she worked for the University of North Carolina leading scientific dive operations to survey fish assemblages on shipwrecks and rocky ledges.

“Receiving a Fulbright award to study marine science in New Zealand feels like a critical life moment when my dreams begin their transition into reality. I am brimming with excitement for the abundance of learning that lies ahead and for the opportunity to grow into the leader, scientist, and educator I was meant to become,” said Newton.

Following her Ph.D., Newton aspires to work as a marine polar researcher and an academic leading international research initiatives.

The scholarship is administered at Oregon State University through LeAnn Adam, OSU Advisor for National and Global Scholarships Advising, which coordinates advising and the campus endorsement process for Fulbright.